Mental Space: The Wintery Gloom of Seasonal Affective Disorder

It’s getting to be that time of year again; the sun sets earlier in the day and rises later. If it’s making you feel down, you aren’t the only one. In fact, Seasonal Affective Disorder is rather common.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the most common form of SAD is winter-pattern SAD, which is also referred to as the “winter blues.” That being said, there is also summer-pattern SAD, which is less common. SAD typically has symptoms that last for four to five months and thus falls under the umbrella of major depression.

Symptoms of winter-pattern SAD include oversleeping, overeating (specifically craving carbs), weight gain and social withdrawal. Symptoms of summer-pattern SAD include insomnia, poor appetite (leading to weight loss), restlessness, agitation, anxiety and episodes of violent behavior. In both forms of SAD, these symptoms are in addition to those of Major Depressive Disorder.

In order to be diagnosed with SAD, you must meet several requirements. First, you “must have symptoms of major depression or the more specific symptoms,” a guidance on the disorder by NIMH, said. Second, “the depressive episodes must occur during specific seasons (i.e., only during the winter months or the summer months) for at least two consecutive years… episodes must be much more frequent than other depressive episodes that the person may have had at other times of the year during their lifetime.”

SAD is more common in women than in men, and it is found to be more common in individuals who live further north, i.e. Ohio versus Florida. It is co-morbid, or common to overlap, with MDD or Bipolar, especially type II, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, eating disorders, anxiety disorders or panic disorders.

There are several ways to treat SAD, including psychotherapy, antidepressant medications, Vitamin D and light therapy. One reason Vitamin D is a treatment option for SAD is that, during the fall and winter months, there are fewer hours during the day in which the sun is shining, which can lead to a vitamin deficiency.

In light therapy, a person “sits in front of a very bright light box (10,000 lux) every day for about 30 to 45 minutes, usually first thing in the morning, from fall to spring,” NIMH said. “The light boxes, which are about 20 times brighter than ordinary indoor light, filter out potentially damaging UV light, making [light therapy] safe treatment for most.”

With winter coming, it’s okay for you to be sad that summer is over; but remember that it will come back. If you think you may be experiencing this form of depression, reach out to the Tiger Counseling Center to give psychotherapy a try with one of the counselors. I also urge you to talk with your healthcare provider if you feel that medication may be the best route to take, as there may be side effects.

Amber Gausshttps://writers.work/ambergauss
Amber Gauss is a Psychology and Russian Language double major. She has been part of staff since August 2019. She writes about Mental Health in her column Mental Space.

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