Counselor's Corner

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mental health condition associated with depression during the fall and winter seasons of the year. The U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that “some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and may also feel depressed. Though symptoms can be severe, they usually clear up.”

SAD was formally described and named in 1984 by Norman E. Rosenthal and colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health.  Dr. Rosenthal a psychiatrist, author, and scientist is credited with identifying SAD, as well as, the use of light therapy for its treatment.  Although experts were initially skeptical, this condition is now recognized as a common disorder.  SAD’s prevalence in the U.S. ranges from 1.4% in Florida to 9.9% in Alaska.

SAD can often begin as mild depression and may progress to a more severe condition.  As the days begin to shorten and available sunlight becomes scarce, some people themselves (or others) may see changes in their mood: they become irritable, possess low energy, are hypersensitive to criticism, and see changes in their appetite (craving for foods high in carbohydrates).  Comparisons of people suffering from SAD to those of a bear preparing for hibernation have been made.

Light therapy is one way to treat SAD by exposure to artificial light.  During light therapy, you sit or work near a device called a light therapy box.  This box gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light.  Light therapy is thought to cause a chemical change in the brain that lifts one’s mood and eases the symptoms of SAD.

In addition to light therapy, it is important to be sure that your levels of vitamin D are sufficient.  People in Northern Climates simply do not get enough sunlight which supplies this vitamin.  Vitamin D levels can be checked by your physician using a simple blood test.

Exercise and diet may also help relieve or reduce the symptoms of SAD.

Finally, remember that not all winter depression is related to SAD.  If the above recommendations do not work, seek out a professional counselor.   SAD_2

As with most health issues it is important to seek help early because symptoms may start to develop as early as September.  The sooner the SAD problem is addressed, the better.  Winter can be a wonderful season and it provides for some very special activities that can be enjoyed by you and your family. It doesn’t have to be a SAD time..

Symptoms specific to winter onset of SAD may include:

  • Irritability
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Problems getting along with other people
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Heavy “leaden” feeling in the arms and legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain

Dave Tice imageDave Tice is a licensed professional counselor at the Center with over 6 years of counseling experience.  To learn more about Dave, or to set up an appointment click here.

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