What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

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Gail Saltz, M.D.
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Gail Saltz, M.D.

Psychiatrist, columnist, bestselling author, and television commentator Gail Saltz, M.D., has been called "a voice of wisdom and... Read more

Many folks are feeling fed up with the cold and the snow. But there is a difference between annoyed and wishing for warmth and feeling truly down and having difficulty dragging yourself out of bed.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is also often called the “winter blues” because it causes depressed moods every winter, while the rest of the year your mood is fine. Along with sadness usually comes being tired, sleeping too much, eating too much (and weight gain), loss of concentration and the ability to enjoy any activities or relationships. Occasionally, it can occur in other seasons such as spring or summer; in such cases symptoms may be different, like trouble sleeping and loss of appetite. The symptoms of SAD truly effect functioning in life and in some cases can be severe enough to require hospitalization, particularly if the person becomes suicidal. Between 2% to 9% of adults in the United States experience SAD.

The cause of SAD is not really known but it is suspected to have to do with the lack of light’s effect on the brain. This is because rates of SAD are higher in places where there is less sunlight or days are shorter and because light itself works as a treatment for SAD. Light therapy, which should be prescribed by a professional, can come in the form of a bulb, a head lamp, or a light box. Sitting in front of a particular strength of light for a prescribed time each day during the winter season can really treat symptoms. Other treatments can include an antidepressant, cognitive behavioral therapy and the use of melatonin (a chemical found in the brain that regulates the sleep cycle) in small and carefully timed doses. All of these treatments should be prescribed by and followed up with a professional.

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