This time of year brings joy to so many people. With the holidays approaching we have a little more pep in our step due to exciting family parties, celebrations with friends, holiday music and lights. However, for some it isn’t very joyful between the months of September to April, especially in the Chicagoland area. A disorder begins to form called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which affects half a million people each year and these numbers peak between November, December, and January.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
As its’ name states it is a type of depression that has an onset based on the seasons with symptoms generally beginning in the Fall and lasting until Spring (Mayo Clinic, 2014).
Symptoms of general Depression include:
Seasonal Affective Disorder may include other symptoms:
Causes for Seasonal Affective Disorder:
There are several reasons and theories for why SAD affects so many individuals this time of year. What some consider the strongest reason is the change in the weather combined with daylight savings time. Chicagoland gets dreary around October and we have more gray skies and cool days, sometimes rain and maybe even a mixture of snow. Since the sun does not make an appearance as often we begin to lack vitamin D, a vitamin that can strongly impact our mood. Mental health professionals in the Chicago area see a boom in clientele during SAD seasons, as Chicagoan have some of the worst rates of depression in the country (Sweeny, 2014). Studies have shown that the prevalence of SAD decreases when individuals live closer to the equator.
Mental Health America (2015) describes how sunlight affects us in two different ways:
“SAD may be an effect of this seasonal light variation in humans. As seasons change, there is a shift in our “biological internal clocks” or circadian rhythm, due partly to these changes in sunlight patterns. This can cause our biological clocks to be out of “step” with our daily schedules. Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, has been linked to SAD. This hormone, which may cause symptoms of depression, is produced at increased levels in the dark. Therefore, when the days are shorter and darker the production of this hormone increases.”
How do I treat Seasonal Affective Disorder?
If you experience any of the symptoms described it is encouraged to seek help from a doctor or a mental health professional, as treatment can be applied quickly. Different types of treatment include:
If you have experienced SAD in previous years then it is important to implement prevention strategies as the season approaches. Around the August and September months it is important to remind yourself to keep up your healthy routines: Stay active, keep up a healthy diet, make sure to take vitamins if you need them, and check in with your health professionals. Remember that SAD is temporary and we can control our symptoms if we take action.
Mayo Clinic. (2014, September 12). Diseases and Conditions: Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/basics/prevention/con-20021047
Mental Health America. 2015. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/sad
Sweeny, Bridgid. (2014, April 10). Chicago Business. Who Had a Great Winter? Mental Health Professionals. Retrieved from http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20140410/NEWS07/140409708/who-had-a-great-winter-mental-health-professionals