Some of us can count on feeling less than optimal when winter comes along. We may experience fatigue, a reduced ability to focus, and a lack of motivation during the winter months. When these symptoms interfere with daily life, it’s often a sign of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) —also called seasonal depression —is a treatable form of depression that should not be brushed off as just the “winter blues.”
This winter has been a little unusual as the early months were quite warm with more sun, which made it possible to be more active outdoors. Then the turbulent storms started and now people are keeping out of the cold and bad weather.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
According to the National Institutes of Health, SAD is a seasonal depression that affects close to 10 million Americans. It happens most commonly during the winter season, when there is less natural sunlight, but some cases also happen during other seasons of the year. It is more common in women, young adults, and those who live further away from the equator. You are also more likely to develop SAD if other members of your family experience depression.
Seasonal depression can impact everything from physical and mental health to employment and social life. A person with depression frequently experiences changes in mood and sleep patterns because the body isn’t normally regulating certain chemicals that are responsible for mood and sleep cycles.
It is important to know what symptoms to be aware of and how to help if you or a loved one develops seasonal depression.
What are the symptoms of seasonal depression?
If you have any of the following symptoms that persist for more than two weeks, you may have seasonal depression:
- A sad or anxious mood
- Feeling hopeless, worthless, or persistent fatigue
- Having little or no interest in activities that you normally enjoy
- Feeling restless or irritable
- Difficulty with concentration, decision making, or memory
- Trouble falling asleep or sleeping too much
- Weight gain
- Thinking about suicide
- Pains, headaches, or digestive upset with no apparent cause or relief
But be careful with a self-diagnosis. Because having some of these symptoms doesn’t mean you have seasonal depression. Likewise, not everyone with seasonal depression experiences each of these symptoms. To be diagnosed with SAD, you first must meet the criteria for major depression occurring during a specific season for at least 2 years. If you notice any of these changes in yourself or a loved one, the earlier help is sought the better.
How is seasonal depression treated?
You might have seen some people break out a light at their desk or in their home. That’s because one of the main helpful treatments for SAD is light therapy (also called phototherapy). With this treatment, a device such as a sun lamp or light box simulates outdoor sunshine. You can turn it on for a set time several times a day for a dose of Vitamin D.
Other treatments may include vitamin D supplements, psychotherapy, and medications such as antidepressants.
How can I get help for me or my loved one?
If you notice symptoms of seasonal depression, seek help from your doctor or call one of Intermountain Healthcare’s behavioral health clinics. Our experienced team of psychologists, physicians, and behavioral and mental health specialists can help manage and treat seasonal depression with compassionate care and state-of-the-art therapies.If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one having suicidal thoughts, don’t delay seeking help. Our suicide prevention fact sheet offers ways to help, or call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.