Are You Sad or SAD? A Brief Look at a Hidden Mental Health Problem
September 30, 2017
There’s a certain magic during the fall and winter months. Pumpkin spice and cinnamon fill the air, leaves begin to change, and the holidays grow ever closer. Unfortunately, the colder seasons also have their downsides.
Even those of us who love sweater weather may suffer from “cabin fever,” and at the very least we’ve heard of it. Many shrug cabin fever off as something inevitable about the colder months, something we all go through. “It’s not that big of a deal,” we think. For many people, this is true. However, there is a legitimacy to cabin fever that people should be more aware of.
If you find yourself feeling extremely down during the fall, and even more so during the winter, you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that manifests during a particular season. Some people suffer during the spring and summer, though this is incredibly rare. It is much more common for people to have depressive episodes during the fall and winter. American Family Physician notes that 4 to 6 percent of people suffer from SAD, with another 10 to 20 percent suffering from a more mild case.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is typified by its manifestation during certain months. If there is no remarkable difference in your feelings between June and January, you may be suffering from Major Depressive Disorder. SAD is also four times more common in women than in men. Additionally, it is much rarer in children and teenagers, with 20 often being the earliest age that symptoms of SAD begin to show. However, as you grow older your chances of suffering the disorder lessen. Finally, and unsurprisingly, seasonal affective disorder is much more common as you go further north.
Are you sad or SAD?
Not all negative feelings are depression. It can be incredibly difficult to tell the difference between being sad and being depressed. The biggest differentiating factor between sadness and SAD is that SAD is triggered primarily by the changing of the season, whereas sadness is triggered by a more direct external factor like the death of a loved one, the beginning of school, or the ending of “La La Land.” Many forms of depression can be tricky to catch by ourselves, though, as it can put you in a mental state that causes you to look for triggers.
Because of this, the easiest way to determine whether you are sad or suffering often involves a third party such as a loved one or a doctor. In addition the negative feelings, SAD is characterized by a few major symptoms. The National Institute of Mental Health lists these as:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Having low energy
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Having problems with sleep
- Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide.
Additionally, the winter and fall variety of SAD can cause hypersomnia (oversleeping), overeating, weight gain, and social withdrawal.
While we can certainly recognize all of these traits within ourselves, the sluggishness and depression caused by SAD makes it difficult to do something about it. If you suspect that you or a loved one are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, it is imperative that you look for a doctor who can help to properly diagnose the issue.
Can it be treated?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is very treatable, and is considerably easier to treat than other types of depression. There are four major categories of treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder, which are medication, psychotherapy, vitamin D, and light therapy.
Medication and psychotherapy are also used to treat Major Depressive Disorder, and have been found to be effective. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the primary method of psychotherapy used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. CBT is used to replace the negative thoughts and feelings caused by SAD with more positive thoughts. Medication, such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRIs and other antidepressants, can be used to combat depression at a chemical level. As with most medications, antidepressants can have serious side effects and should not be used without a doctor’s consultation.
Vitamin D and light therapy are more “DIY” treatments to Seasonal Affective Disorder. They are both used because of the belief that SAD is caused by a lack of sunlight in the fall and winter months. Vitamin D attempts to supplement this, but has been found to be ineffective. Light therapy, however, has proven to be highly effective, and is often the first thing a doctor will prescribe. You can purchase the necessary light boxes at home, but it is always recommended that you speak to a doctor or therapist first to determine what exactly is right for you.