Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that is propagated by a change in seasons, typically with the start of Fall. Yes!!! Even Floridians can suffer from SAD. This seasonal depression gets worse in the winter months before ending in the spring.
Some people may get a mild version of SAD known as the “winter blues.” It’s normal to feel a little down during colder months. You may be stuck inside, and it gets darker earlier and for more hours. SAD goes beyond the “winter blues” whereby it has a significant and negative impact on your daily life.
- About 5% of adults in the United States experience SAD. It tends to start in young adulthood.
- SAD affects women more than men.
- 75% of people who get seasonal affective disorder are women.
Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Biological clock change: When someone has reduced exposure to sunlight, their biological clock shifts. This internal clock (circadian rhythm) helps regulate sleep, mood and hormones.
- Brain chemical imbalance: Sunlight has a regulatory role in regulating serotonin. With more darkness serotonin levels can fall or decrease which may lead to mood changes. People at risk of SAD may already have reduced serotonin activity to begin with.
- Vitamin D deficit: Serotonin also gets a boost from vitamin D. Since sunlight helps us produce vitamin D, less sun in the winter can lead to a Vitamin D Deficiency. That change can also affect serotonin and mood.
- Melatonin boost: Melatonin is a chemical that regulates sleep. The lack of sunlight may stimulate an overproduction of melatonin in some individuals. This is what leads to feelings of fatigue/lethargy and sleepiness during the winter.
Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Phototherapy: Bright light therapy, using a special lamp, can treat SAD.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT has shown the most therapeutic efficacy to treat SAD compared to any other mode of therapy.
- Antidepressant medication: Can be utilized alone or in combination with light therapy and/or Vitamin D.
- Vitamin D: A vitamin D supplement may help mitigate symptoms.
- Spending time outdoors: Getting more sunlight can help improve emotions. Fifteen minutes a day of sunlight will also help produce more Vitamin D.