Do you experience a lack of motivation and depression during the winter months? You’re not alone. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is more prevalent during the fall and winter months when we’re more isolated and less active. In the Midwest, less sun, shorter days, and colder weeks throughout the season often trigger SAD. When challenging days become the norm, intervention is necessary.
According to Lindner Center of HOPE psychiatric nurse practitioner Jessica Kraft, it’s hard to estimate the number of people who have SAD, as many do not know they have it. “Women can be at higher risk for developing SAD as well as those who live further north,” adds Kraft. “SAD most commonly develops in young adulthood, it often runs in families, and can often be comorbid with other mental health conditions including depression, bipolar, anxiety, ADHD, and eating disorders.” In addition to existing estimations, it’s thought that the number of cases in recent years has been higher due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Common symptoms of SAD are:
- Feeling down or depressed for most of the day
- Less interest in hobbies, social activities, or things that have brought you joy in the past
- Decreased concentration at home and at work
- Fatigue, sluggishness, or low energy
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Changes in appetite with increased craving for carbohydrates, or changes in weight
- A general feeling of hopelessness
- Low self-esteem
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
When to seek help
Most individuals should start with a primary care provider in order to rule out other medical conditions that could be responsible for symptoms of SAD. Conditions such as changes in thyroid hormones, low blood sugar, anemia, or viral infections like mono can be direct causes of SAD. If there’s not an identifiable medical cause, seeking psychiatric help may be beneficial.
Common treatments for SAD
- Light therapy It’s a common approach to supplement the lack of natural sunlight and sun exposure in the winter months. Sitting in front of a light box of 10,000 lux daily in the morning during the winter months can be a helpful intervention.
- Talk therapy The most common type of talk therapy for SAD is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
- Vitamin D supplementation There’s mixed research on how helpful supplementation of Vitamin D is for SAD, but some find it helpful and a good option to try prior to trying a psychiatric medication.
- Psychiatric medication For those who haven’t seen much improvement with light therapy or CBT, psychiatric medication can be an option. It’s important to keep in mind that treatment with medication may take six to eight weeks to be effective.
Are you or a loved one struggling with seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?
Contact Lindner Center of HOPE by visiting the Lindner Center of HOPE website to learn more about treatment.