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Seasonal affective disorder (SAD).) is more than just dealing with “cabin fever” or feeling sick when the weather turns cold.
It’s a seasonal depression that affects millions of Americans, including children, every year.
The illness can cause long-term damage to your mental health if left unchecked.
Depression affects tens of millions of Americans, with the highest category of major depression in adults occurring among individuals between the ages of 18 and 25. The specific cause of the condition is unknown. However, several factors such as genetics, biological and environmental play a key role Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC estimates that about one in six American adults experience some form of depression in their lifetime. Across all age groups, more than 16 million Americans experience the effects of depression, which range from mild to severe symptoms that include feelings of sadness or anxiety or suicidal thoughts.
Treatment for the condition can vary depending on the severity and includes therapy and medication. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, contact your doctor or a qualified practitioner to determine the best treatment.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD is a type of depression associated with seasonal changes that usually occurs during the fall and winter months.
For those most affected by mental pain and mood disorders, depression returns each fall, with symptoms worsening in the winter before going into a sort of remission in the spring and summer. It is more common in women and younger people — and in individuals who, according to experts, live in places with long winter nights.
But for those who never seek treatment, SAD can lead to other forms of depression, DeAnna Jordan Crosby, clinical director of New Method Wellness, told Fox News in a February 2020 interview.
What are the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder?
Symptoms of SAD include feelings of hopelessness, decreased energy and focus, social withdrawal, increased sleepiness, loss of interest in work or other activities, slow movements, increased appetite with weight gain, and unhappiness and irritability.
“The symptoms of SAD can be masked as typical winter signs, but they can become extremely serious,” Crosby said.
The segment of the population considered most at risk for developing SAD includes those who live far from the equator.
“A person should seek help for SAD when their lifestyle is affected by symptoms such as a significant decrease in energy, difficulty waking up in the morning, a tendency to overeat and gain weight, and withdrawal from family and friends.”
Together, these symptoms can cause a person to miss work or see their relationships suffer, which could make depression worse.
What are some examples of seasonal affective disorder?
A common pattern for a person with seasonal affective disorder is to experience depressive symptoms in late fall or early winter, but recover by the start of spring or summer with sunnier days.
Typical behaviors or instances of an individual with SAD include extreme suicidal thoughts, sleeping late in the day, loss of interest in hobbies or any outside activities, and feelings of self-loathing or guilt, according to the Mayo Clinic.
What is the best treatment?
The segment of the population considered most at risk for developing SAD includes those who live far from the equator, Crosby said, adding that this may be because reduced sunlight in winter and longer days in summer.
Other risk factors include gender, with women four times more likely to develop SAD than men, and those with a family history or those who have been diagnosed with major depression or bipolar disorder.
“When it comes to seasonal depression, you shouldn’t just ‘wait it out,'” Crosby said.
“While you may be waiting for symptoms to ‘turn off’ as we move into spring, it is critical to seek treatment for SAD and may want to maintain it during remission.”
Treatment options, she said, could include light therapy, vitamin D, medications and psychotherapy. Crosby said she’s even had patients plan their vacations around the season to ensure they visit sunnier places in the winter to combat their symptoms.
What is light therapy?
A common and successful method for SAD is light therapy, which is a type of phototherapy where the individual is exposed to direct sunlight or intense artificial light on a daily basis. In addition to depression, this treatment can also help treat patients with sleep disorders.
A light box is a typical example of light therapy in which the individual is exposed to at least 10,000 lux of light about 24 centimeters from the patient’s face with the eyes open, but not looking directly into the light.
Patients are advised to use this technique early in the morning to adjust their mood and ease severe SAD symptoms.
What is psychotherapy?
Outside of medication, psychotherapy is said to be another effective treatment method to combat the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. It is a form of talk therapy in which the patient develops healthy day-to-day coping skills for trauma.
Some psychotherapy sessions may take place in a group or individual setting with a therapist. These sessions are highly confidential and require an exceptional level of trust between patient and therapist.
Alexandria Hein contributed reporting.