Feeling blue, sad, or even depressed even though the holidays are upon us? You may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka SAD). According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Symptoms of winter SAD usually begin in October or November and subside in March or April. Some patients begin to slump as early as August, while others remain well until January. Regardless of the time of onset, most patients don’t feel fully back to normal until early May. Depressions are usually mild to moderate, but they can be severe.” SAD is often found in women in their twenties and thirties, but statistics report children, men, and teens may suffer from the symptoms as well.
At first, symptoms are mild, but gradually increase in intensity. The symptoms of SAD include, but are not limited to, depression include oversleeping, daytime fatigue, carbohydrate craving and weight gain, features of depression, especially decreased sexual interest, lethargy, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, lack of interest in normal activities, and social withdrawal. In a previous blog (Ain’t No Cure for Summertime Blues or is There?), I discussed the signs and symptoms of reverse SAD which are very similar to winter version of the disorder, but occurs primarily in the Sumer months.
I have had several patients over the years report increasing episodes of SAD and SAD like symptoms. Most studies report the disorder stems primarily from the shortening of days and daylight during the winter months causing a lowered production of serotonin in the brain. Other studies report the symptoms stem from the colder temperatures and lack of color of vegetation in the Northern hemispheres. In either event, SAD is a very real and often painful disorder. SAD is often misdiagnosed as hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, infectious mononucleosis, and other viral infections.
There are many different treatments Seasonal Affective Disorder, including bright light therapy, medication, ionized-air administration, cognitive-behavioral therapy and carefully timed supplementation of the hormone melatonin. Also, a minor dose of an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) such as Lexapro, Paxil, or Zoloft may prove to be beneficial.
If you are feeling the signs and symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, do not hesitate to contact your primary care physician for viable treatment options.
Dennis J. Carradin, Jr., LPCMH, NCC, BCETS