If you have been struggling with mental health issues and asking yourself, “What is seasonal depression”, you’re not alone.
The World Health Organization described depression as a common mental health disorder affecting one in twenty adults worldwide. Rates of depression in the United States are remarkably higher. The incidence of depression tripled during the first months of the pandemic in 2020 and continued to rise in 2021, according to this new study. In 2022, one in three adults in the US has depression.
Today, we’ll explore a specific type of depression affecting 6% of the American population. Sometimes known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), SAD seasonal affective disorder depression, or simply seasonal depression, this mental illness is prevalent during the dreary winter months of the year.
People with SAD can experience depression in the same way as patients with major depressive disorder but their depressive episodes are reserved for the darker days of the winter months.
First, some SAD seasonal depression basics.
What is Seasonal Depression Called?
Seasonal affective disorder – commonly abbreviated to SAD – is a type of mental illness also referred to as seasonal depression.
Seasonal depression is identified in the APA’s DSM-5 as major depressive disorder (with seasonal pattern), a specific type of depression.
(SAD) Seasonal Affective Disorder Depression
SAD is more than simply feeling down in the winter months. The symptoms are often overwhelming and disruptive, often interfering with day-to-day functioning. The symptoms of SAD persist for roughly 40% of the year. Fortunately, SAD is treatable.
Understandably, seasonal depression is more prevalent in areas like Oregon or Maine than in Florida or Arizona, but there are other factors that can increase your risk of developing seasonal depression beyond climate.
- When it comes to SAD, women are four times as likely as men to experience symptoms and be diagnosed with this seasonal disorder.
- People who already live with bipolar disorder or depression may experience a deeper depression during the winter months.
- If you have any family history of depression, you are more likely to experience depression yourself.
- Younger people are more likely to experience SAD than seniors. Seasonal depression has even been known to affect teens and younger children.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
People who experience seasonal depression will find that their depressive symptoms are the most pronounced during the fall and winter months, while spring and summer remain relatively untainted.
As the leaves begin to change colors and fall from the trees and the days draw in, you might begin to feel slightly down. Throughout fall and winter, you remain depressed but when flowers begin to poke through the earth and the sun shines more brightly, you flourish again.
If so, you could be suffering from seasonal affective disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder is associated with a chemical brain imbalance triggered by less sunlight and shorter daylight hours in winter. As the seasons unfold throughout the year, some people find their circadian rhythm shifts, causing them to feel out of step with their schedules.
SAD is more prevalent among people living far away from the equator in areas with fewer winter daylight hours.
What is the Cause of Seasonal Depression?
There is still no consensus on what causes seasonal depression.
Over winter, the shorter days mean much less sunlight. This can wreak havoc on your brain and biological clock.
When your brain is affected by the lack of sunlight in the fall and winter, it can mess with the levels of serotonin and melatonin in your brain. These chemicals are vital for regulating your mood and sleep patterns. When these chemicals are out of balance, it can throw everything out of kilter.
Additionally, changes in season can disrupt melatonin levels in the body. Melatonin is a hormone associated with mood and sleep patterns.
Signs of Seasonal Depression
When investigating the cause of your depression, you should note the signs and symptoms you are experiencing.
Generally, for a diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder, you need to experience the following symptoms for two or more years, and they must coincide with the change of seasons.
Seasonal Depression Symptoms
Seasonal affective disorder symptoms mirror the following symptoms of major depressive disorder.
- Feeling worthless or hopeless
- Not being able to sleep
- Feeling down or depressed on a regular basis
- Lacking focus and concentration
- Drained energy
- Easily agitated
- Feeling tired and sluggish
- Losing interest in things you previously loved
- Changes in weight and appetite
People with SAD might seem to be running slower than usual, and they will find it quite difficult to wake up in the morning. They have little energy while maintaining a voracious appetite. They will find it difficult to concentrate, and they often begin to withdraw from friends and family members.
Because of all these symptoms, the personal and professional relationships of this person usually start to suffer. The subsequent loneliness can lead to further depression.
When this type of depression sets in, things can slide downhill rapidly.
Is Seasonal Depression Real?
Research conducted by NIMH (the National Institute of Mental Health) in the 1980s led to seasonal affective disorder or SAD being categorized as major depressive disorder with annual recurrence, a condition more pronounced and debilitating than the winter blues.
The literature and research into SAD peaked in the 1990s.
Learning how to deal with this type of depression can help you enjoy the whole year instead of spending half of it feeling subpar. How can you learn to treat this?
How to Help Seasonal Depression
How to combat seasonal depression will vary from person to person. There are four main treatment avenues. These can be used in isolation or in combination.
The main modalities for seasonal affective disorder treatment are:
- Vitamin D Therapy: Many people with seasonal depression have low blood levels of vitamin D. Supplementation with vitamin D is an effective treatment for SAD, but it doesn’t work in isolation. Some researchers suggest that vitamin D therapy is useless in fighting seasonal depression while others consider it worthwhile alongside other treatments.
- Light Therapy: Since the 1980s, light therapy has been a common treatment for seasonal depression. The idea is that the specially designed light mimics the natural sunlight that’s missing in the winter months and relieves the symptoms of SAD.
- Medication: Depression specialists use selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) to treat seasonal depression. The right specialist can work with you to find an effective medication for your needs if you’re suffering from SAD.
- Psychotherapy: CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is another effective approach to treating seasonal depression. A therapist can work with you and talk you through the seasonal related factors leading to this mental health issue and help you to better deal with them.
What Vitamin D is Good for Seasonal Depression?
Some people suffering from this type of depression find that increasing their exposure to sunlight can alleviate some symptoms.
Spending time outside is a great way of introducing more vitamin D naturally. If you are unable to get out easily, expose yourself to some sun through a window if possible.
Supplementation can also help you get more vitamin D onboard.
Seasonal Depression Lamp
A SAD lamp emits extremely bright light with all harmful UV rays helpfully filtered out.
You typically engage with light therapy for 20 minutes daily, ideally early on winter mornings.
If effective, people report benefits from light therapy within a week or two of starting treatment. To maximize benefits and minimize the chance of relapse, treatment usually continues throughout winter. Therapy often restarts in early fall as a preventive measure.
Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder at The District
If you think you are suffering from seasonal affective disorder, you shouldn’t settle for care from any random therapist. You need specialized care from a depression specialist with deep experience treating SAD. When looking for the right depression specialist, be sure to check that they have the required background and experience.
Benefit from evidence-based therapies including MAT and psychotherapy and fight back against the seasonal depression that’s been holding you back.
Reach out to the friendly team for more information at 844.287.8506.