The sky is gray and cloudy, the temperature has dropped, and you have lost all of your motivation. Is this the typical "winter blues," or a type of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?


Spiritual Wellness

The sky is gray and cloudy, the temperature has dropped, and you have lost all of your motivation. Is this the typical "winter blues," or a type of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? Take heart; as expressed by Mark Mounts, a licensed professional counselor in the Houston area, "Jesus understands our dark feelings, our doubt, our discouragement, and yes, even our depression; and his desire is to help us." No form of depression--including SAD--is beyond His capability to help. Through prayer and other treatment options, you can mitigate if not eliminate the effects of SAD.

 

SAD is a type of annual depression that is caused by the changing seasons. For those who are affected by it, the symptoms often begin to appear in the fall and can become increasingly severe as winter weather rolls in. When spring arrives, bringing increased sunshine and warmer weather, this depression can taper off and disappear. Once controversial, seasonal affective disorder is now considered a real type of depression that many people face each year.

 

The symptoms for SAD are the same for other types of depression. A person may feel withdrawn, hopeless, and uninterested in normal activities. The sufferer can experience a decrease in energy, feeling increasingly sluggish and tired during the day. A person can also experience changes in appetite, insomnia or an increased need for sleep, and personality changes such as becoming more irritable. The major difference between seasonal affective disorder and depression, however, is that these symptoms relate directly to seasonal changes.

 

For some, seasonal affective disorder can occur during the warmer months of spring and summer instead. Though this is less common, some do report feeling depression that occurs over the warmer part of the year and decreases as colder weather approaches. These cases often have the same symptoms, though with an increased risk of insomnia and anxiety. Like others dealing with SAD, summer sufferers find that their depression is directly linked to the changing seasons.

 

The reason why some people suffer from seasonal affective disorder is still unknown. Experts suggest this condition may be linked to changes in our hormone levels. Hormones such as melatonin and serotonin affect our sleep cycles and help regulate our moods. When these hormones fluctuate too greatly, it can cause changes in how our brains respond to certain stimuli. Changes in these hormones can also affect a person's circadian rhythm, disrupting our natural sleep-wake cycle. Changes in the amount of sunlight we see can cause the body to reduce the amounts of these hormones created as well as alter our normal sleep cycles, possibly causing some to fall into a depression.

 

Certain people have been found to have an increased risk of suffering from seasonal affective disorder. Most commonly, those with a family history of the condition are at an increased likelihood of also suffering from it. The condition has been found to also have higher rates among those who already have a mental disorder, such as bipolar, and those who live in areas to the far north or the far south of the equator. Having these risk factors can increase the likelihood of suffering from SAD, though it is certainly not a guarantee that you will experience it.

 

As with any other form of depression, seeking treatment for seasonal affective disorder is very important. Health professionals can evaluate your symptoms and diagnose if what you are dealing with falls under SAD or another type of depression. If diagnosed, a health professional can prescribe treatment options that can help reduce the effects of this disorder. The treatment for SAD can range from medication and psychotherapy to light therapy, where a person is exposed to bright lights for several hours in order to mimic the typical sunlight of warmer months. A combination of these treatments is often found to be very effective at reducing the negative symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. 

 

Seasonal affective disorder is a very real type of depression that affects thousands of people each year. Like any other depression, if left untreated the sufferer can experience an increased risk of suicide or self harm. If the winter months bring on negative changes, you should never suffer in silence. With treatment and understanding, many people who deal with SAD can find the winter months enjoyable again.