Are you a little more irritable this time of year? More tired? Do you just feel “down in the dumps” and lack energy? Many people who feel like they just have the “Holiday Blues” may actually be suffering from something more serious called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and it effects more than half a million Americans each year.
Dr. Jason Hershberger, Chair of Psychiatry at Brookdale Hospital in New York City says, “SAD usually occurs in those who already are diagnosed or afflicted with a type of depression. It occurs with the change of the seasons, beginning in the Fall and staying with you throughout the cold, dark winter months.”
“Your energy drops and your mood will swing. Many shrug off the depressed feeling as the winter doldrums, denying that they be suffering from mid to severe seasonal depression”, he explained.
Researchers have found that the main culprit for SAD is typically the shorter days and lack of sunlight during the fall and winter months, but is also effected by age, sex, where you live and family history.
Dr. Hershberger adds, “If you are a young woman living far from the equator with a family history of SAD or a previous diagnosis of clinical depression or bipolar disorder, you are most at risk. Women are found to have more severe symptoms, while young people are often at higher risk than older adults.”
“Living far from the equator means there is less sunlight, especially during the winter. Any family or personal history of depression, bipolar disorder or SAD makes the disorder hereditary,” Hershberger explained.
If you suspect you may have SAD, it’s important to make a list of your symptoms and note any major life changes and/or difficulties you’ve gone through recently. Take them to your doctor to discuss.
If you are diagnosed with SAD doctors will usually recommend phototherapy, which is “a form of light therapy to help your brain produce the chemicals, like serotonin, you need to feel healthier and happier,” Hershberger said. You can purchase light boxes from anywhere from about $100 to $300.
Antidepressant medication may also be prescribed along with counseling to help you learn how to cope with your stress and anxiety through the winter months.
More information about Seasonal Affective Disorder can be found at mayoclinic.org