Seasonal changes can be a time of inspiration, beauty, and celebration, but they can also wreak havoc on your mental health. If you experience depressive episodes during the end of the year, it may be more than just the winter blues – you may need seasonal depression treatment.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a health condition similar to other types of depression. This mood disorder occurs during yearly seasonal changes. Most people with SAD experience symptoms in the late fall and the winter months, though a small percentage also experience summer depression.
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The exact cause of SAD is still being researched. Current research suggests that those who suffer from winter depression are affected by seasonal patterns of weather that lead to less sunlight. The lack of sunlight can lead to decreased serotonin levels, especially if you develop a Vitamin D deficiency.
Lack of light can also lead to an increase in melatonin and disrupt normal sleep patterns. For those with winter depression, too much melatonin can lead to oversleeping and developing symptoms of depression. Those who have summer depression may have a decrease in melatonin, which could cause a disruption in their circadian rhythm and contribute to their symptoms.
Symptoms of SAD
SAD has similar symptoms to major depressive disorder – though they may sometimes be more mild in comparison – but not everyone who has SAD experiences every symptom.
Both sufferers of winter and summer SAD may experience the following:
- Persistent hopelessness and negative thoughts
- Low energy
- Mood changes
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Feelings of helplessness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased irritability and restlessness
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
**If you or a loved one are feeling suicidal or contemplating hurting yourself, reach out immediately. Help is available – call or text 988 to reach the American Suicide and Crisis Lifeline to speak with a counselor.
***If this is an emergency, dial 9-1-1.
Those who suffer from winter SAD may experience these symptoms:
- Overeating and weight gain
Those who suffer from summer SAD may experience these symptoms:
- Weight loss
- Increased aggression
Determining if you’re experiencing SAD on your own can be difficult because it shares symptoms with other mental illnesses, such as major depression and bipolar disorder. SAD is different from other forms of depression due to its seasonal pattern, but bipolar disorder often manifests symptoms like SAD at similar times of the year. If you suspect that you have a mental disorder, it’s important to talk with a mental health professional to receive a diagnosis.
SAD Treatment Options
If you’re struggling with SAD, a mental health care provider can help you develop a treatment plan to help alleviate your symptoms. During your appointment, they will cover a variety of treatment options and develop a personalized treatment plan.
Psychotherapy is provided by a licensed mental health counselor and consists of a variety of treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and talk therapy. Psychotherapy aims to replace unhealthy coping mechanisms and negative thought patterns with new ones to help reduce the effects of mood disorders and other mental health conditions.
Bright light therapy, also known as phototherapy, uses a light box to mimic sunlight and lessen the effects of SAD. Typically, light boxes provide 10,000 lux of light and are used for about 20 to 30 minutes a day. Many are filtered to remove ultraviolet light to prevent damage to the skin or eyes. Light therapy is proven effective in treating SAD, especially when coupled with regular talk therapy or CBT.
For severe SAD, you may be prescribed antidepressants to help manage the symptoms. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), bupropion, and other antidepressant medications are often effective in relieving SAD symptoms. It can take some time for you to feel the effect of the medication, so it’s recommended to begin taking the medication in late fall or early winter.
Vitamin D supplements can help increase your output of serotonin, which can reduce the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Vitamin D, coupled with light therapy and talk therapy, is often used to help manage mild to moderate SAD.
If you’re looking for another holistic way to treat SAD symptoms without the potential side effects that come with medication, exercise can help. Getting outdoors despite the cold can help get you much-needed light exposure – but even an indoor workout can help stimulate serotonin production and reduce feelings of depression.
No Matter the Weather, Find a Brighter Tomorrow
Seasonal affective disorder and other mental health conditions can severely impact your quality of life and your physical health. If you start experiencing symptoms, you shouldn’t wait to reach out for help. Seasonal depression treatment can help you live your best life no matter what time of year it is.
If you or a loved one are struggling with your mental health, our staff at Meridian Healthcare can help. We offer integrated health services for whole-person well-being. Start preparing today for a better tomorrow by reaching out to one of our mental health care providers.