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Feeling SAD? It Could be Seasonal Affective Disorder

Have you or anyone you know experienced depression that coincided with the changing of seasons? Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), more commonly referred to as seasonal depression, or major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern, is depression that strikes predominantly in the fall to winter and lifts during the spring and summer when there is more natural sunlight.

Are you at risk?

SAD affects women at rates four times higher than men, with 20-30 years of age being the most common age of onset. Some risk factors include age (SAD is more common in young people), history of major depression and proximity to the poles. There is also a correlation between those diagnosed with SAD and a family history of psychiatric disorders, with 55 percent having a severe depressive disorder and 34 percent having used alcohol.

Some causes of SAD include an irregular circadian rhythm, and unbalanced serotonin and melatonin levels—two neurotransmitters responsible for mood and sleep patterns. Lack of sunlight seems to reduce serotonin production, increase formation of melatonin and throw the body’s internal clock off.

What are the signs?

Those with seasonal depression are likely to experience various signs and symptoms, some more obvious than others. Here are some behavioral changes to be aware of:

  1. Changes in sleep patterns
  2. Overeating
  3. Fluctuations in weight
  4. Social withdrawal
  5. Lethargy
  6. Changes in sex drive
  7. Mood variability
  8. Anxiety

What should you do?

While there are a variety of treatment options available for people experiencing SAD, there are also some things you can do to practice self-care, or to support someone in your life who may be experiencing SAD. Early intervention is key in preventing and lessening symptoms of SAD and other forms of depression. If you are concerned about someone in your life, here are a few ways you can support them:

  1. Approach them with concern about the changes in behavior you have observed. Avoid making comments about “character flaws” and focus on observable changes.
  2. Listen – without judgment – and offer validation and reassurance that help is available and recovery is possible.
  3. Know about some resources in your community that could be helpful – whether they are professional resources or self-help strategies like exercise, light therapy or meditation.
  4. Encourage the person to seek help and let them know you are there to help make connections if need be.

If you are experiencing symptoms of SAD, don’t be afraid to ask for help. When in doubt, turn to your community. Reach out for resources about dealing with depression. Websites, books, support groups, help lines and specialty organizations for depression and suicidal thoughts are good places to start.

As always, if you or someone you know are thinking about suicide or experiencing an emotional crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

To learn more about supporting someone experiencing SAD or another mental health or substance use challenge, find a Mental Health First Aid course near you. Anyone, anywhere can #BeTheDifference for someone facing mental illness or addiction if they know what to say and what to do.