While many folks may feel a little down during this time of year, some may experience a more pervasive mood syndrome called Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD.
SAD is when a person experiences a recurrent pattern of major depression taking place during the autumn and winter season. This depression includes an inability to function, a helpless or hopeless feeling, difficulty making decisions, sleep changes (too much or too little), becoming withdrawn and a loss of interest in activities.
SAD is diagnosed when a person has experienced a two-week period of major depression during the winter season for at least two years.
It is believed that SAD can be caused by a variety of factors. Genetics can play a part, as can a disruption of the body’s internal clock, caused by the decreased daylight. Low serotonin, which effects mood, or low melatonin, which plays a role in mood and sleep patterns, could also be part of the cause.
As many as 40 to 50 people per 1,000 in the United States may be affected with SAD, and the average age of a SAD sufferer is 23. About half of those affected by SAD have a first-degree relative (i.e. mother, father, brother) who suffers from a mood disorder, and twice as many women are affected by SAD than men.
Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder includes talk therapy, light phototherapy (using a lightbox that mimics outdoor light), antidepressants, or a combination of treatment methods. About 70 percent of people with mild to moderate SAD respond to light therapy and 60 percent of patients with SAD respond to antidepressants.
If you think you or a loved one is experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder, please consult with a mental health provider, such as a psychiatrist, for diagnosis and treatment.
Learn more about the hospital’s behavioral health program.
Miguel Macaoay, M.D., is chief of psychiatry at Carroll Hospital Center.