Recognizing Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression triggered by the decreased daylight of winter.
From early September through the first part of April, an estimated 10 million Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. While the specific cause of SAD is unknown, medical experts believe the decrease in natural daylight during the winter months triggers the disorder. Changes in the amount of daylight upset the body’s internal clock and serotonin levels, the chemicals in your brain that affect mood.
Who is at Risk of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD is four times more common in women than men and the average age for developing the illness is 23 years old. Further research indicates that geographic location plays a role as well, meaning people living in areas where there is still abundant sunlight during winter are less likely to be affected by this disorder.
Symptoms of SAD include:
- Extreme fatigue, difficulty getting up in the morning, or sleeping much more than usual
- Loss of energy
- Increased appetite, weight gain, or craving carbohydrates
- Decreased sex drive
- Suicidal thoughts or feelings
DOs stress that because it is a form of depression, people should seek help when dealing with seasonal affective disorder. This is not a condition that should be self-diagnosed or self-treated.
Causes and Treatments
One treatment option includes daily light therapy called phototherapy. During this treatment, patients are seated a few feet away from a light therapy box, which emits a significantly higher amount of light than that of natural light. For instance, the light levels within an office often range from 500-750 lux. A light box can produce levels at 2,500-10,000 lux.
Other treatments options for SAD include medications like antidepressants, therapy, increase in exercise and stress management.