Health

Is Seasonal Depression A Thing?

The change in seasons can cause a form of seasonal depression called S.A.D. S.A.D is the abbreviation for the mental disorder called Seasonal Affective Disorder which effects many people. Read on to get tips on how to cope with this disorder according to Dr. Sanam Hafeez.

The clocks “fall back” every November, which means that there will be less day light. Many people chalk up feeling blue in winter as simply a fact of cold weather and lack of sunshine. But 4 to 6 percent of people may have a winter seasonal depression which is clinically referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Another 10 to 20 percent may have mild SAD. SAD is four times more common in women than in men. Although some children and teenagers get SAD, it usually doesn’t start in people younger than age 20. Your chance of getting SAD goes down as you get older. SAD is also more common the farther north you go. For example, it’s seven times more common in Washington State than in Florida. 

Dr. Hafeez explains that, “In most cases, Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer. However, some people with the opposite pattern have symptoms that begin in spring or summer. In either case, symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.” 

The following are symptoms to look for to see if you are suffering from seasonal depression SAD

  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of energy
  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
  • Social withdrawal
  • Oversleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating

How is SAD treated?

Many people with SAD will find that their symptoms respond to a very specific treatment called bright light therapy. For people who are not severely depressed and are unable—or unwilling—to use antidepressant medications, light therapy may be the best initial treatment option says Dr. Hafeez.

In her practice Dr. Hafeez has found that antidepressant medications have [also] been useful in treating people with SAD. Of the antidepressants, fluoxetine (Prozac) and bupropion (Wellbutrin) have been studied in the treatment of SAD and shown to be effective. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved these medications for treatment of major depressive disorder.  Dr. Hafeez cautions that, “Any person considering treatment with an antidepressant medication should discuss the benefits and risks of treatment with their doctors.”

Individuals with a predisposition to bipolar disorder should be more cautious in approaching treatment for SAD and depression in general. Light therapy, like antidepressant therapy has been associated with increased risk of experiencing a manic episode. The specifics of this are beyond the scope of this review and again, should be discussed with one’s doctors.

Finally, a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, a good diet and a strong social network, is also likely to help you cope with SAD.

About Dr. Sanam Hafeez

Dr. Sanam Hafeez is the founder and Clinical Director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services, P.C., a neuropsychological, developmental and educational center. She received her doctorate from Hofstra University and completed her post-doctoral work in neuro-developmental psychology at Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, NY. Dr. Hafeez is a New York State licensed psychologist and a New York State certified school psychologist.

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