SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is also known as seasonal depression. Although the acronym can help in recalling the name and intensity of emotion that one experiences while living through the disorder, it does not need to be confused with the emotion/passing feeling that is sadness. Dr. Norman Rosenthal was the first psychiatrist to coin the term SAD, defining it as: “the development of a depressive episode in the autumn or winter, resolving in the summer, in an individual not previously diagnosed with a major affective disorder” (Cotterell).
Mental Health America sites several reasons and causes for seasonal depression, including reduced levels of sunlight. Not getting enough sunlight can lead to low levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is responsible for moods. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression diagnoses. Seasonal depression can also be linked to higher levels of melatonin, a sleep related hormone that is created by the pineal gland in the brain. It is common for melatonin levels to be higher during the winter due to the longer nights and shorter days. The higher levels of melatonin can cause a disruption in our natural circadian rhythm or biological clock (“Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)” [Mental Health America]). Not feeling fully rested or sleeping too much can be problematic, especially when it begins to affect day to day activities or relationships.
According to research done by the Mayo Clinic, some common symptoms of SAD are as follows: “feeling listless, sad or down most of the day, nearly every day; losing interest in activities you once enjoyed; having low energy and feeling sluggish; having problems with sleeping too much; experiencing carbohydrate cravings, overeating, and weight gain; having difficulty concentrating; feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty; having thoughts of not wanting to live” (“Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)” [Mayo Clinic]). It is important to seek out help if these symptoms are persistent in your life. If active steps are taken, there is a way that your moods and quality of life as a whole can become more positive and nourishing. Do not think less of yourself or feel like you have to make your symptoms seem less intense to your family or those that you care about most. Covering up problematic behavior and making it seem unimportant is not good for you. Don’t belittle yourself or what you are feeling.
Treatment options for SAD have traditionally included: light therapy, CBT (Cognitive behavioral therapy) or ‘talk therapy’, and antidepressant medications. Light therapy is a process by which the patient sits in front of a light box for 30-45 minutes. The box filters out the harmful UV rays whilst providing a more substantial amount of light when compared to normal indoor lighting. This can help combat the increased levels of melatonin being produced in the body due to more dark hours. CBT, or the modified version of it, CBT-SAD, is a type of therapy generated towards creating more sustainable coping skills and positive thinking. CBT-SAD uses a special tool called behavioral action, which aids patients in creating a pleasant schedule in the winter months to keep energy up. Finally, there are several different medication options that can be utilized with the help of a doctor. Commonly prescribed medications for depression are SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors); the most widely used out of this family of medications are fluoxetine (Prozac), citalopram, sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine, and escitalopram (“Seasonal Affective Disorder”).
If you suffer from seasonal depression or depression in general, please take care of yourself during this dreary season and remember to put your wellbeing first. It isn’t easy to take time for or to show kindness to yourself, especially if you are feeling overcome by your own mind. Know that we are here for you and we care about you deeply.
From all of us here at Columbia Center for EMDR, we wish you the best 2023 and we hope that you take extra time to become mentally healthy this year. It’s a journey that we are proud to help you with.