Seasonal Affective Disorder

What is seasonal affective disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is an older term for major depressive disorder (MDD) with seasonal pattern. It’s a psychological condition that results in depression, normally provoked by seasonal change. People typically experience the condition in winter. The condition most often occurs in women and in adolescents and young adults.

SAD is something that comes up, especially around this time of the year.  The temperature is colder, the weather tends toward dismal, and we struggle with having to be inside more and out of the sun.   The sun helps with mental health, but without the sun our bodies don’t get some of the things we need.  At this time of year, we have to try more to get out, get sun when we can, to try to overcome some of the things that come with SAD.

Living in Florida certainly helps when it comes to getting enough sunshine.  Living up north, it’s harder to get a fix.  Moving from Michigan, and living in the state of Washington, the winters tended to be overcast, and dismal at times.  Watching the weather recently, it’s been snowing where I’m from for about a week, making it hard to get out.  It took work to get outside and get some sun when you can.  They sold lights when I was in Michigan to try to get “light therapy” to offset some of the seasonal issues, and for some that works.  For others, winter was hard because leaving the house put your life at risk for falls, car accidents, getting stuck, and illness from the cold.

Working in the emergency room, we saw more broken bones from slipping on ice, but also more depression.   Rehab facilities were often full when trying to work on placement, and there seemed to be a struggle with an increase in substance abuse.  Working with people who struggled at this time of year was just as important as working with patients with other mental health issues.  Getting through the season can be hard for some, but with support and planning, it can be done effectively.

Although light therapy can work, being aware of the issues, and planning for it is helpful.  Eating right, exercise, and getting enough sleep are a starting point.  Just as with other mental health issues, living a healthy lifestyle becomes very important.  Getting out when you can will help as well, even if all you do is bundle up and sit in the sun.  Get some fresh air, if you are able, but don’t put your health at risk if you are prone to respiratory issues.   Go to the store and window shop, or walk the mall near you.  Spend time with others, in your area.  If you can, get out and walk around your neighborhood.

Seasonal affective disorder is very real, and can lead to longer term depression if not addressed and managed.  If you need to get help, get help through counseling.  Past patients came to see me in the winter to help combat their winter blues, but were okay by spring when they could get out again.  No matter what, if you are feeling depressed and struggling, find support to help you through this time of year.  The holidays can be tough, for many different reasons, but winter can also be tough.  It’s all a part of being happy for life.