Information on Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a widespread mental health issue. It is characterized by a period of fall/winter depression and spring/summer remission, meaning those with this disorder feel more depressed and manic during the colder months of the year. SAD’s causes are still unknown since it is such a complex disorder.
SAD is described as a syndrome involving depressive episodes that occur and dissipate based on the time of year. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a manual on diagnosing mental health disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association, includes a seasonal pattern specifier often applied to bipolar disorder cases and major depressive disorders where the depressive episodes recur in a specific season and change to mania/hypomania at another time of year, which include dramatic mood swings and elated emotions.
Although a spring/summer pattern of recurrence is possible, an estimated 10 to 20 percent of these cases follow a fall/winter depression with spring/summer remission. SAD is relatively distributed among the general population, but young adults and women are most likely to experience it.
Serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of well-being and overall happiness, levels in the human brain are lowest in the winter season. Using types of light therapy, individuals treated relapsed when serotonin levels decrease. The Phase-Shift Hypothesis implies that the body’s sleep-wake cycle is phase-delayed due to the environmental light-cycle, based on observations of delayed beginnings of sleep, melatonin, and other bodily functions in some SAD patients. Phase-delay means that the sleep patterns of the person are behind, or later, than the patterns of most.
Most treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder includes light therapy where the patient sits a few feet away from a special light box to be exposed to bright light within the first hour of being awake each day. The bright light is meant to mimic natural outdoor light and causes a change in brain chemicals linked to moods. Sometimes patients are prescribed with medications as well.
“Trying different things will help you find more happiness during these times where you are limited to things, or feeling trapped in the coldness and darkness of winter,” said Jenelle Romig, senior.
A version of therapy known as psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a form of treatment where a patient identifies negative thoughts and behaviors and changes them to prevent themselves from feeling worse. The patient also learns to schedule activities and interactive social events to keep the mind active and connected. Patients are also advised to do every day healthy activities such as getting more sunlight and exercising daily.