Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Your mood can change from day to, day but in some cases it can change from season to season. Do you experience feelings of sadness, tiredness, low energy, trouble concentrating, and or changes with your appetite or sleep for 2 weeks or more during the winter months? Some people believe that there’s a certain type of depression that can affect people who live in areas that are far away from the equator. Although it’s not officially recognized as a medical diagnosis, there’s a name for it; it’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD). SAD is a type of depression that can affect both girls and guys of all ages, but it’s more common among people who live in areas that are far away from the equator. For example, people living in New England are more likely to develop symptoms of SAD than people residing in Arizona.
There are two chemicals that our brains make, called serotonin and melatonin, which help regulate our mood and sleep. Scientists believe that sunlight has a lot to do with how much of each hormone is made by the brain. Levels of melatonin tend to increase with minimal sunlight, resulting in fatigue, while lack of sunlight decreases the levels of the hormone serotonin, which is connected with symptoms of depression.
Symptoms that may occur with SAD are: changes in mood, trouble sleeping, loss of interest in doing things that a person normally enjoys, changes in appetite, difficulty concentrating, and lack of socialization. These symptoms can affect a person’s self-esteem, impact academic performance, and can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
SAD is treated in many different ways. Health care providers will usually recommend exposure to sunlight and/or, light therapy, and for some, talk therapy (or counseling) can be very helpful also. You can increase your exposure to sunlight by: going for walks outside, and participating in outside activities/sports. Light therapy is similar to natural light and is recommended for people with symptoms who have minimal time outside. The goal of treatment is to get the person back to feeling like themselves again.
So what can you do? If you think you or a friend/family member may be experiencing symptoms of SAD, try reaching out to your parent(s), guardian(s) or a trusted adult, and be sure to tell your health care provider. Depression is a serious thing and if untreated it could get worse. Other medical conditions can cause similar symptoms so it’s important to make an appointment with your health care provider (HCP) and get evaluated.