SAD is major depression with a seasonal pattern. This means that most feel episodes of depression during the fall or winter months. (Scientists have seen a striking example in Scandinavia where suicide rate doubles in the winter months.)
Symptoms of SAD may include
- lack of interest in usual activities,
- loss of appetite,
- social withdrawal,
- feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or worthlessness,
- feelings of anxiety,
- poor concentration,
- difficulty falling or staying asleep.
Why does this occur? In short, this is not fully understood. Genetics, age and the body’s natural chemical makeup may all play a role. Our biological clock (circadian rhythm) is disrupted with reduced levels and amounts of sunlight. Reduced sunlight can cause a decreased level of serotonin (which is a feel-good chemical in the brain). Melatonin may also decrease–this impacts our ability to get a restful night sleep.
When to see your doctor? If your symptoms (as listed above) extend beyond a week or two, if you feel hopeless, think about suicide, or use drug/alcohol to help “cope.”
What are treatments? Light therapy may help the brain chemicals be tricked into thinking it’s spring/summer. Antidepressant medication may also help. Counseling is a third way to help.
Don’t brush off that “winter blues” feeling. Help is available.