Seasonal Affective Disorder or “SAD” is a type of depression that is triggered by the changes of the year. There are two types of SAD: winter-onset depression, and the less common, summer onset depression. In winter-onset depression, symptoms begin in the fall, and continue through to the end of winter. And similarly, in summer-onset depression, symptoms begin at the beginning of spring, and continue to the end of summer. There is no definitive answer for what causes SAD, though it may be related to factors such as ambient lighting, body temperature and hormone regulation. Also, there is speculation that it may begin in adolescence or childhood. And like other forms of depression, SAD occurs more frequently in women than in men. Winter-onset depression is much more prevalent in the northern states where the winter season is much longer, and harsher than in other regions.
SAD is much more common than one might think. There are as many as half a million people in America today who suffer from winter-onset depression.
And although SAD does not seem to affect people under the age of 20, there are still some teenagers and children who have it. For adults, the risk of SAD decreases as they get older.
There are many symptoms for SAD, though it should be noted that some of the symptoms may resemble symptoms from other forms of depression, like ongoing feelings of guilt or hopelessness. To get a proper diagnosis of this disease one can visit their health care provider. Some symptoms of winter-onset depression include: weight gain, fatigue, a tendency to oversleep, difficulty concentrating, and avoidance of social situations. Some symptoms of summer-onset depression include weight loss, insomnia, agitation, and increased sex drive.
There are treatments for SAD. Since winter-onset depression has to do with the lack of sunlight in the winter, light therapy has been proven to be effective on patients. Light therapy can come on many forms. It can be in the form of a head piece or visor type device that one would wear on their head like a cap, or a box with a light source in it. People would look into the light box, or wear the visor for a certain amount of time a day, usually for about 30 minutes, when people are most likely to be depressed. Continue this treatment every day until there is more sunlight in the daytime, ideally in the springtime. When used properly, light therapy has little to no side effects, however there are risks, like headaches, eyestrain, and fatigue.
There are many people who feel different when winter comes around. They may feel tired more often, notice a little weight gain, and just feel generally down. This can be described as the “winter blues,” a much milder condition that should not be confused with SAD. See a doctor if you feel down for days, or cannot seem to get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy.
Jenna Shepanski is a fourth-year student majoring in English. She can be reached at JS618186@wcupa.edu.