Are you feeling down and not sure of the cause? It may be seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression. It may bring out symptoms of depression, mania or hypomania, depending on the “seasonal” type. These symptoms include loss of interest in doing things that were normal routine and enjoyable in the past, energy changes, sleep disturbances, appetite changes, etc.
SAD begins and ends at the same time each year. “Winter depression” occurs in the fall/winter, starting around October or November, and lasts through March or April. Or it can begin in April and last until October. Each of the types mentioned may vary in symptoms. However, if left untreated, each of these can recur on an annual basis.
How common is SAD?
In general, SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, affects 3 percent of the population. A majority of the patients are seen in the primary care office setting. And nearly 15 percent of these patients also have major depressive disorder.
Who is at risk of developing SAD?
SAD is more commonly seen in women, but it affects both genders. Younger adults are more commonly diagnosed than older individuals as well. And those with a family history of some form of depression also may be at risk. Having major depressive disorder, or even bipolar disorder, may cause these seasonal types to be worse overall.
Some ongoing studies suggest that living in regions with less sunlight exposure, or living farther from the equator, may increase risk. These studies are not 100 percent confirmed. Lastly, genetic links are being studied as well.
Researchers also are studying individuals with Circadian Rhythm Disorders. This includes people who may work “swing shifts” or “third shift.” There could be a linkage to the serotonin levels in the brain in these individuals which may make them more susceptible to SAD without any other known genetic risk factors.
Other links have been reported around melatonin levels. Darkness overall may increase the production of melatonin causing increased fatigue and circadian rhythm, or “sleep-wake” cycle, disturbances.
What are the symptoms of SAD?
The symptoms of SAD vary on the type: winter depression (or fall-winter onset) or spring-summer onset. Symptoms also are evolved around the seasonal time frame as discussed above. Here’s how the symptoms break down individually.
- Low Energy
- Weight gain
- Mood changes
- Loss of interest in doing the things that you used to enjoy
- Sleep disturbances, especially excessive sleep
- Possible memory loss
- Behavioral changes that may preclude suicidal or homicidal ideation (rare, but seen in worst case scenarios)
Spring-summer onset (less common compared to fall-winter onset):
- Energy may be increased rather than decreased
- Poor appetite, or decreased appetite
- Weight loss instead of weight gain
If you or someone you love are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to talk to your primary care provider. Your primary care provider can manage the diagnosis and treatment of SAD. See how SAD is treated in our blog.