What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The exact cause of seasonal affective depressive disorder is unknown and can vary from person to person. However, research suggests several things that occur with the changing of the seasons could be among the seasonal affective disorder causes:
- Changes to biological clock/circadian rhythm — Caused by changing levels of light from the sun.
- Changes to serotonin levels — Less light from the sun means your body produce less serotonin, and serotonin affects mood.
- Changes to melatonin levels — Changing seasons and less light from the sun can impact sleep patterns and mood.
At the same time, several risk factors for SAD have also been observed, according to PubMed.gov:
- Living far away from the equator — More distance from the equator means longer nights and darker winters.
- Being female.
- Being a younger adult — Children and older adults can also get seasonal affective disorder, though it’s much less likely.
- Family history of mental health disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, or SAD.
What are the Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Most seasonal depression symptoms are the same as those of major depression but last for a shorter period of time, coinciding with either late fall and winter or early spring and summer.
- Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and depression:
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or hopelessness
- Frequent thoughts of suicide or death
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble with sleep
- Low energy
- Changes in appetite
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
- Daily or near daily feelings of depression
Additional symptoms differ depending on in which season someone experiences seasonal affective disorder, or which of the two SADs they experience, according to Mayo Clinic:
- Winter seasonal affective disorder or winter depression symptoms include:
- Too much sleep
- Change in appetite, with cravings for carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Low energy or tiredness
- Summer seasonal affective disorder, spring depression or summer depression symptoms include:
- Insomnia or trouble with sleep
- Decrease in appetite
- Weight loss
- Anxiety or agitation
How is Seasonal Affective Disorder Treated?
People with SAD can do several things to try to manage their symptoms, according to the American Psychological Association. Some ideas include getting as much light from the sun as possible, eating healthy foods, spending time with family and friends, and staying active with hobbies and exercise. While these things can help with some of the symptoms, sometimes it becomes necessary to get professional help.
A mental health professional can diagnose seasonal affective disorder and develop a treatment plan for addressing it. As with chronic major depression and other mood disorders, therapy and medication can be effective in treating SAD, though it can take some time to work through therapy and to find the right medication. For this reason, it’s important to seek help for SAD early on if possible so you can have an action plan in place before symptoms become severe.
Light therapy and Vitamin D supplements are also common forms of treatment for fall and winter seasonal affective disorder because they can help make up for the deficit in sunshine a person experiences in the winter. Light therapy involves sitting in front of a light box that produces bright light meant to mimic the light of the sun. The goal is for the light to stimulate the brain’s circadian clock and help activate the process in the brain that creates melatonin. However, many people do not respond to light therapy and Vitamin D alone; therapy and medication are often combined with light therapy and Vitamin D.
What Does Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatment Look Like at PRC?
The Phoenix Recovery Center is equipped and ready to help those who are struggling with seasonal affective disorder. The Phoenix has a range of treatment options that are tailored to each individual on a case-by-case basis to help bring about successful outcomes. Depending on a patient’s situation, they may be placed in one the following treatment programs: Inpatient Residential Program, Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) Day Program, Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), or General Outpatient Program (GOP).