Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

As the seasons change and the days get darker earlier, it’s not uncommon for feelings of sadness to creep in. Being cooped up inside without exposure to sunlight can trigger chemical changes in the brain that can result in a depressive state known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. SAD is also more common in women than in men. In this article, we’ll explore the effects of SAD and offer ways to combat the gloom and care for your mental health.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

For most people, periods of sadness or mild depression aren’t uncommon, sometimes referred to as the “winter blues.” But, for those suffering from SAD, these overwhelming feelings are a regular part of life throughout the winter months, year after year. Sometimes called Seasonal Depression, this condition describes a serious depressive disorder that experts believe is triggered by reduced sunlight and vitamin D levels. This causes a disturbance in the normal production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for stabilizing our mood and feelings of well-being, and melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep.

This condition affects roughly 5% of the U.S., or over 15 million people each year and tends to first appear in young adulthood. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, SAD is diagnosed four times more often in women than in men. The reasons for this are still being studied, though some have cited a connection to hormonal changes in women surrounding puberty, following pregnancy, and during perimenopause, or menopausal transition.

With so many affected, and so much still unknown, it is important to know the signs and symptoms, so you can recognize a need for help as early as possible.

What are the Signs of SAD?

Similar to other forms of depression, each individual’s case will vary from that of others in both the severity and number of symptoms. However, years of studies and research show there are some commonalities when it comes to symptoms, including:

In severe cases, frequent thoughts of morbidity and suicide. If you are ever having suicidal thoughts or feelings, please know that there are many people who want to support you! Please reach out for help. Call 1-800-273-TALK in the U.S. or visit IASP or to find a helpline in your area. You are not alone. It can get better.

As the name of the condition implies, these symptoms tend to begin in mild, almost unnoticeable ways in the early fall months, and proceed to worsen through the shorter, darker winter months. The brighter days of spring alleviate these symptoms until the cycle repeats, if left unaddressed.  That’s why it is important to examine what can be done to lessen or prevent this condition from becoming a problem and recognize that treatment and relief are available.

Getting Help & Treatment

Knowing what the condition looks like and how it can affect you is a great start! We encourage you to read more from trustworthy, helpful sources like Mental Health America, the DHHS Office on Women’s Health, or the National Institute of Mental Health to give you and those you care for the best chance at recognizing this condition and how it could be affecting you. This self-education and support from loved ones, combined with open, ongoing dialogue with your provider, improves the awareness needed to recognize and address this debilitating condition.

The good news is that those affected can find relief both in simple ways, as well as with help from your provider. Below are a few approached that may help.

And as always, remember that Axia Women’s Health and our family of providers are always here for you to be an open, compassionate ear for your questions and concerns. We are your partner in helping you get the support you may need. Please know that it is not only okay to ask for help, it’s essential, no matter how hard that first step may seem. Help is available, and treatment works. If you think seasonal affective disorder may be a reality for you or those you care for, don’t suffer in silence.

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