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Most people experience some version of the “winter blues.” For some people, however, it is a debilitating mental condition. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression. The official name is Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern. It can emerge at any age. Generally speaking, it typically starts between ages 18 and 30.

For most SAD sufferers, the condition is triggered by the onset of winter. Some people struggle with symptoms in spring or summer. Either way, the issue is linked to a specific change of season. Up to 5 percent of Americans struggle with SAD, and three out of four are women.

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Common Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Being that SAD is a form of depression, some of its symptoms will overlap with depression symptoms. For example:

  • Feeling chronically sad and depressed
  • Sleeping noticeably more or less (but either way, it will result in fatigue)
  • Losing interest in activities that once excited you
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Appetite changes (this usually means you are eating more)
  • Restlessness, anxiety, and irritability
  • Loss of concentration and focus
  • Unexplained physical pain, e.g. headaches
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
  • Thoughts of death, dying, or suicide

Again, since these dovetail with signs of depression, it’s not always easy to connect them to a seasonal change. Therefore, it is crucial that you speak with a mental health professional.

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Risk Factors/Causes For SAD

  • Family history: It appears that you’re more likely to struggle with SAD if you have a close relative with any form of depression (including SAD).
  • Having depression or bipolar disorder: If you already have one of these conditions, it’s more likely you’ll also have to deal with SAD.
  • Where you live: The further from the equator you are, the less sunlight you will encounter. This can create another risk factor: lack of vitamin D. Vitamin D can increase your supply of serotonin — a brain chemical that contributes to feelings of happiness.
  • Circadian rhythm: This is a fancy way to describe an individual person’s unique “biological clock.”
  • Melatonin levels: Melatonin impacts our mood and our sleep patterns. When the seasons change, melatonin levels can shift more for some people than others.

How Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is Treated

There are some self-guided options that can help – sometimes just getting outside and moving your body can help ease your symptoms. However, if you need a higher level of treatment, there are a few different and effective approaches to try.

Nutritional Supplements

As mentioned above, a vitamin D deficiency can play a role. Thus, in some cases, vitamin D supplements may be initially tried. More likely, the supplements would be suggested in conjunction with something like light therapy or talk therapy (see both below).

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Since SAD is a form of depression and may be triggered by irregular serotonin activity, someone with SAD may be prescribed antidepressant medications. The most common of these are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). More recently, an antidepressant called bupropion has shown promise specifically with SAD.

Light Therapy

Light Therapy has been a foundational form of treatment for SAD for decades now. The premise is straightforward. Since a possible trigger for SAD is lack of sunlight, the person is exposed to bright light every day to counter the seasonal change. Here are a few specifics:

  • The lightbox is much brighter than normal indoor light
  • UV light is filtered out
  • Sessions usually range from 30 to 45 minutes
  • Patients with eye disorders may have to modify the treatment

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If any of the above sounds uncomfortably familiar, we should talk. SAD and the depression symptoms associated with it are not something to be tackled on your own. Meeting with a mental health professional empowers you. You’ll learn more about what you’re feeling and why. Together, we’ll map out a course that will guide you to a place of healing and recovery. Please consider reaching out to Blue Boat Counseling to find a therapist in Columbus Ohio. We can help. Contact us today.