Seasonal depression, winter depression or seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that is more common than most sufferers think it is. Studies have shown that more than 10 million people in the United States suffer from SAD. Seasonal depression differs from other forms of depression because it only occurs during certain parts of the year. The emergence of winter usually triggers an episode of SAD for the sufferers. However, SAD can occur during the summer months, as well. A small percentage of people with SAD gets depressed during the summer months.
What Are the Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The symptoms of SAD are similar to the symptoms of other depression types. The most prevalent symptom of SAD is a loss of energy or a fatigued feeling. The sufferer may sleep for extended hours during the day or isolate himself or herself from family members and friends. A persistent sense of gloom and hopelessness may plague the person. Cases of summer SAD may present symptoms such as weight loss while wintertime depression may result in weight gain.
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Medical experts have varying theories about the cause of seasonal affective disorder. Some experts believe that hormonal deviations in the brain cause seasonal depression. Other specialists feel as if inadequate sunlight absorption causes wintertime depression. The lack of sunlight may cause the sufferer’s brain to produce less serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that is responsible for feelings of happiness and well-being. Low serotonin levels can cause a person to feel fatigued and blue. A person who notices any of the aforementioned symptoms should see a mental health specialist for an evaluation.
Diagnosis and Treatment for SAD
A mental health expert will attempt to diagnose a person using a series of methods. The specialist will ask the patient a series of questions about his or her lifestyle, childhood and life experiences. The specialist will ask the person to describe his or her symptoms and the times during which they occur. Furthermore, the mental health expert will ask the person if he or she is taking any prescription medications or illegal drugs. The specialist may have the patient complete a full psychiatric evaluation, as well. A psychiatric evaluation is a long compilation of multiple choice questions and additional questions that can help to establish an illness such as depression.
A clear diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder will warrant a treatment plan. Some specialists like to use light therapy for their patients if they suffer from the wintertime sadness. Other specialists may prescribe antidepressants for a temporary period. Light therapy involves the use of a special fluorescent light box. The affected person would spend approximately 30 to 90 minutes per day near the light to improve serotonin production. Alternatively, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Zoloft, Celexa and Prozac can increase the amount of serotonin in a depressive brain.