As the winter months draw near and daylight becomes shorter, it’s not uncommon for people to experience a broad spectrum of emotions, especially with the holiday season approaching.
In fact, many become overwhelmed and bogged down by what physicians call seasonal depression also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
During December’s national recognition of Seasonal Depression Awareness month, many hope to draw more attention to the dynamics of developing symptoms of depression during seasonal changes.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, six of every 100 people experience SAD and another 20 percent experience a more mild form of seasonal affective disorder.
Kenneth Thompson, associate director for medical affairs at the Center of Mental Health Services, says SAD occurs in patterns and is most common in those who live farthest away from the equator in northern or southern regions.
“The most frequent example is the tendency to become depressed especially during the winter,” Thompson said. “The theory is it has to do with the exposure of light.”
Though the exact cause of SAD is not known, researchers believe that less exposure to sunlight causes a reduction in serotonin in the brain. The disorder tends to be most common in women.
SAD systems range from loss of energy, social withdrawal, weight gain and depression.
Though some of these symptoms may be common during the transition from summer to cooler months ahead, those with SAD experience a much more serious reaction to the onset of winter.
It is not uncommon to experience these patterns in a cycle, which tends to go away and come back the same time each year. In some instances people experience SAD in the summer months with signs of increased sex drive, aggravation and irritability.
In even more cases, physicians say it is possible for individuals to experience reverse SAD. The individual will not have depression-like symptoms at all, but instead, symptoms of hypermania, which consists of increased activity and elevated moods.
“The most well known and talked about treatment to help someone with SAD is light theory,” Thompson said. “People spend time in front of these lights for 30 minutes to an hour. However, these lights are a few hundred dollars so this may not be realistic for everybody.”
Other options include medications or opting to spend 30 minutes to an hour outside in the sun. If symptoms are mild, one can also adjust light fixtures in their immediate surroundings.
If someone is experiencing these signs and symptoms, Thompson recommends a visit to a local physician to receive the proper diagnosis and treatment.