Written by: Melissa DaSilva LICSW
Have you noticed that recently you are having feelings of depression, irritability or lack of interest in activities you once found enjoyable? Does staying in bed all day sound like a dream come true? You may be suffering from Seasonal Effective Disorder (SAD).
20% of the New England populations will suffer from mild to serious symptoms of SAD during the winter months. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons. SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. . If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall when days start to get shorter and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Teenagers that suffer from SAD tend to be more irritable with the onset of winter, with frequent crying spells, anxiety, fatigue and lower grades.
What causes SAD?
While the exact reason why some people get SAD while others are immune remains a mystery. The Mayo Clinic hypothesis several causes:
- Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
- Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
- Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
What can you do if you are suffering from SAD?
If you think you may be suffering from symptoms of SAD, you should check with your primary care physician. Some of the treatments they may prescribe may include light therapy, medication or psychotherapy.
- Light therapy. In light therapy, you sit a few feet from a special light therapy box so that you’re exposed to bright light. Light therapy mimics natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood. People can notice some positive changes between a few days to two weeks. There can be some side effects including headaches, nausea or interrupted sleep patterns.
- Medications. Some people with SAD benefit from antidepressant treatment, especially if symptoms are severe. Your doctor may recommend starting treatment with an antidepressant before your symptoms typically begin each year. They may also recommend that you continue to take the antidepressant beyond the time your symptoms normally go away. Keep in mind that it may take several weeks to notice full benefits from an antidepressant. In addition, you may have to try different medications before you find one that works well for you and has the fewest side effects.
- Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, is another option to treat SAD. Psychotherapy can help you: Identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse. Learn healthy ways to cope with SAD. Learn how to manage stress.If you think that you are suffering from SAD, seek a professional that can help you decide the best course of treatment.
You can contact one of our therapists at East Coast Mental Wellness at 401-227-0372