People often complain about being sluggish and gloomy during harsh winters and refer to those feelings as “winter blues.” While the term itself is a made-up word to explain the symptoms, in some cases where the mood changes are more serious can affect the way a person feels, thinks and handles daily activities, and they may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
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SAD is a type of depression that starts during late fall or early winter and goes on until early spring. It is believed to be caused by a lack of exposure to natural light, which can disrupt the body’s internal clock and cause changes in the levels of certain chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin and melatonin.
Symptoms of SAD
As per the UK’s National Health Service, symptoms of SAD include a lack of energy, difficulty in sleeping, changes in appetite and weight, difficulty in concentrating and feelings of sadness or hopelessness. These symptoms may gradually increase as the days get shorter and the amount of sunlight decreases.
While people ignore the disorder thinking the symptoms are nothing severe, if diagnosed by a psychiatrist, SAD should be treated.
Diagnosis of SAD
The diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is typically made by a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, who will conduct a thorough evaluation of the individual’s symptoms, medical history and family history.
Here is how SAD can be diagnosed, according to the National Institute of Mental Health:
• Patients show symptoms of depression.
• In order for an individual to be diagnosed with SAD, the depressive episodes must occur during specific seasons (i.e., only during the winter months or the summer months) for at least 2 consecutive years. It must be noted here that not everybody with SAD experiences symptoms every year. Some people may have a seasonal pattern of depression but not meet the full criteria for SAD.
• The frequency of such episodes must be more than the frequency of other depressive episodes that the person may have had at other times of the year during their lifetime.
Treatment of SAD
Some treatment methods recommended for SAD are:
• Light therapy: The person sits in front of a very bright lightbox (10,000 lux) every day for about 30 to 45 minutes, usually first thing in the morning, from fall to spring.
• Psychotherapy: It’s a kind of talk therapy, also known as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
• Antidepressant medications: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are used to treat SAD.
• Vitamin D tablets- Used to treat Vitamin D deficiency which is often associated with people who have SAD.
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