If you find yourself with a case of the “winter blues,” you’re not alone. It is estimated that at least 5% of adults in the U.S. suffer from seasonal depression, which is sometimes known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The majority of people who are impacted by Seasonal Depression are women.
In this post, we’ll pinpoint what seasonal depression is; what causes it; when it occurs; and the expected duration for those affected. We’ll also share common treatments and information on how to get help if you or someone you love suffers from the ailment.
What is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal Depression is triggered by the change in season, from summer to fall or from fall to winter. It is more common in people who live in locations at high latitudes, cloudy regions and those who struggle with other mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder. Those who suffer from anxiety and are prone to panic attacks can sometimes be at greater risk for developing Seasonal Depression as well.
What causes Seasonal Depression?
Though researchers aren’t certain of the exact cause for Seasonal Depression, it is believed that a lack of sunlight plays a big part. Because our internal clocks regulate sleep, mood and hormones, less exposure to the sun can cause a biological shift that’s hard to balance.
In addition, sunlight helps regulate serotonin, which is a brain chemical that stimulates feelings of happiness. Without this activity, people are more prone to Seasonal Depression. Alternately, the body may produce an excess amount of melatonin in the darker months, which impacts sleep and may cause premature feelings of tiredness before the body is ready to rest for the night.
Symptoms of seasonal depression can include:
- Withdrawal from social activities
- Excessive sleeping
- Inability to focus on basic tasks
- Lack of energy
- Sadness and despair (without a specific triggering event)
- Heaviness in limbs
- Cravings of certain foods (mostly carbohydrates)
- Weight gain
- Low self-esteem
- Thoughts of suicide or death
When does Seasonal Depression occur?
Seasonal Depression typically begins in early fall and can last until spring when the duration of daylight lasts longer. For some, the symptoms arrive later in autumn or at the beginning of winter. Symptoms are usually noticed when the disruption to an individual’s circadian rhythm occurs.
Treatment for Seasonal Depression
Though there are (unfair) negative stigmas associated with Seasonal Depression, we must remember that it is a very real condition, which thankfully is treatable. Having a day or two feeling blue is normal for everyone, but sustained sadness and a lack of motivation to perform daily activities, coupled with disruptions to your sleep patterns or appetite changes can be signs that it’s time to see a doctor.
There are several ways that a medical professional may choose to treat Seasonal Depression. Here are a few of the most common:
Vitamin D supplements are a safe and easy way to get the necessary amounts of the nutrient to lessen or eliminate symptoms. A doctor will assess the correct dosage based on the individual needs of the patient.
A prescription for sunshine is perhaps the most pleasant way to treat the condition (if sunshine is readily available where you live). Spending time outdoors can be very beneficial as can allowing sunlight to bathe indoor rooms through unobstructed windows at your home or workplace.
Special lamps that produce bright light can be beneficial to those suffering from Seasonal Depression.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Talk therapy that works through the issues associated with the condition has proven to be one of the most long-lasting ways to relieve symptoms.
Some doctors may prescribe antidepressants alone or in combination with other methods of treatment for maximum results.
Talk to a Medical Professional
If you’d like to get help for seasonal depression, contact our Primary Care team to request an appointment. They can provide assessment and offer treatment options to help you feel better through the winter months.