when being S.A.D becomes a diagnosis

Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), also known as Seasonal Depression, is described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as a form of depression with a seasonal pattern. While Seasonal Affective Disorder can affect people at different times of the year, it is most common in the fall and winter months when the days shorten. Exhibiting many of the same symptoms as major depression, it has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by a change in one’s circadian rhythm. Seasonal Affective Disorder is primarily characterized by mood changes due to the changing of the seasons. Symptoms include feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities, changes in sleep, loss of appetite, and more.   

While Seasonal Affective Disorder may seem like a less common iteration of depression, it affects approximately 10 million Americans each year and typically lasts about 40% of the year, making it a very real and serious illness for many people. With that in mind, it’s important to know the risk factors, as well as the best strategies for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder.    

Seasonal Affective Disorder is more common in women than in men, as well as those that live farther from the equator, due to a more drastic change in seasons and loss of sunlight in the colder months. Common treatments for the disorder include light therapy, talk therapy, and antidepressant medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). According to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy had a larger positive impact on S.A.D sufferers after two years of treatment compared to light therapy, although light therapy was proven to show improvements overall. Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, essentially consists of exposure to an artificial light source that mimics natural sunlight, which is thought to increase serotonin in the brain. Both forms of therapy, as well as medication, can be effective treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder.   

For those living with Seasonal Affective Disorder, preventative measures are key to managing symptoms. Aside from the aforementioned treatments of Seasonal Affective Disorder, those with S.A.D. can mitigate symptoms by making sure to get outdoors during the day for small periods of time, as well as maintaining a healthy, balanced diet that supports optimal brain function. When it comes to any kind of depression, it’s always important to take small steps to care for yourself, whether that be taking a shower or cleaning up your living space. Seasonal Affective Disorder is no exception. Most of all, it’s important for those struggling to know when to ask for help from loved ones and professionals, as well as to accept help when offered.    

 Creating a support system for your loved ones living with S.A.D is extremely important. This includes being available when your loved ones ask for help, as well as checking in every so often to ask how you can best support them, letting them know you’re available if they do need assistance. Another method of support is to take short walks outdoors with the person struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder, as this will encourage both physical exercise and a good dose of sunshine. Lastly, it’s important to remember that symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder are generally the same as major depression, meaning you can support your loved ones by encouraging treatment and offering to help with everyday tasks that may be more difficult for those struggling with depression (e.g., cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry). 

Seasonal Affective Disorder is just as significant as major depression and other well-known mental disorders. Although the symptoms are temporary and shift with the seasons, S.A.D. is a serious disorder. The right treatment and support can help greatly with the improvement of symptoms, which can make a huge difference in the well-being of those struggling with this condition.

Additional Resources:

National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

This article has been republished from Renewed Awareness Magazine.

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