Seasonal Affect Disorder

Do you know someone suffering from “SAD”?  SAD stands for “Seasonal Affect Disorder.” We used to call it the “holiday blues.” We found, however, that SAD is much more than feeling sadness or depression during the holidays. It is usually linked to the seasons, but since we often see people we care about during the holidays, we may not notice the symptoms of SAD the rest of the season.

SAD is most common during the Autmn or Winter months; however, there are some people who suffer from SAD in the Spring or Summer months. During the other seasons, those who suffer from SAD tend to be happy and well-adjusted. We have read many articles and studies about how or why SAD occurs, but there is really no consensus. Like other types of major depression, we can probably assume that it has many causes, both physiologically and situationally, and depends upon the person who is suffering and the environment in which he or she lives or works.

You may know a few people who suffer from SAD, but how would you know? SAD is a kind of depression which happens only during certain times of year. It is characterized by the typical symptoms of other types of depression: sadness, loss of energy, feelings of hopelessness, sleep issues, difficulty with concentration, increased agitation, loss of interest in the activities and people once enjoyed, and thoughts of suicide or death. People who suffer from Winter-forms of SAD may sleep much more than usual, have strong cravings for carbohydrates, overeat during Winter months, and seem to be retreating from civilization. Summer-forms of SAD may be characterized by high anxiety and agitation, lack of appetite, and insomnia.

The symptoms of SAD may be mild and managable, but they may also be strongly felt by the person suffering and can be serious, even debilitating. Like all mental health issues, if SAD affects a person’s ability to function in any one important part of his or her life, professional help may be helpful. Psychotherapy and a few medications have been shown to be helpful. In addition, a simple blood test could indicate if a person has a vitamin deficiency related to the season or the lack of sunlight, and a vitamin suppliment could be all it takes to help a person get through the season. Other types of therapy have been shown to be effective, as well. One of the most effective is called light therapy and is simply the use of a certain type of light which mimicks sunlight, once or twice per day.

SAD is treatable, and you may be able to help someone who is suffering from it. Don’t be afraid to ask the person if he or she would like to talk. Tell them you noticed something and ask about it. If you suspect the depression is severe, ask if the person is thinking about suicide. Suggest professional help. Just asking may be the key to jolting a person into realizing something is wrong and help is available.


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