With the beginning of fall and winter, come colder weather, shorter days and for many people a significant decline in temperament. Complaints of feeling largely blue and less energetic than usual are common. Some are able to overcome these “winter blues”, or sometimes known as “cabin fever”, and successfully carry out their normal day-to-day duties. However, for those whose symptoms are more numerous and more severe, the outcome can be incapacitating. These extreme mood variations include “feeling down all the time, experiencing low energy, problems with sleep and appetite, and reduced concentration to the point where some have difficulty functioning at work or in the home” (ncpamd). The occurrence of these symptoms is not simply coincidental; studies have proven that they correspond to a sort of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.
Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder? A SAD Cycle
During the winter, many of us suffer from “the winter blues”, a less severe form of seasonal depression than SAD. In general, many people suffer from some form of depression during the wintertime. We may feel more tired and sad at times. We may even gain weight or have trouble getting out of bed. We may be lethargic or uncaring about normal day-to-day responsibilities. Over 10 million people in America, however, may feel a more extreme form of these symptoms (Psychiatric Times). They may constantly feel more depressed to an extent that social and work related activities are harmfully affected. This more extreme form of the “winter blues” is SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. Symptoms
Typical SAD symptoms includes sugar cravings, lethargy, depression, weight gain and a greater need for sleep or even insomnia (ncpamd). Many may experience mood changes, less concentration, hopelessness, tension and inability to tolerate stress, lack of pleasure, and loss of libido. The desire to avoid social and physical contact is also considered a side effect of SAD. In severe cases, SAD can sometimes become long-term depression. Bipolar disorder or suicidal thoughts are also possible, seen in nearly 20% of people with SAD. Symptoms can also lead to physical symptoms, such as a heavy, leaden feeling in the arms and legs. Onset of these symptoms usually occurs in October or November, and the symptoms typically disappear in early spring. A diagnosis of SAD can be made after two or three consecutive winters of experiencing these symptoms which is followed by complete remission of symptoms in the spring and winter months. SAD affects half a million people every winter between September and April, peaking in December, January, and February (nmha.org 2002). The “winter blues”, the milder form of SAD, may affect even more people. Most commonly, symptoms of SAD appear in one’s late twenties or thirties, yet the disorder has been less frequently diagnosed in children. Out of all of the patients who suffer from SAD, three out of four victims are women. The prevalence of SAD has different factors. As we mentioned above, many sufferers are female. The main age of onset is between 18 and 30 years old and the risk of getting SAD for the first time goes down as you age. SAD occurs in both the northern and southern hemispheres, but especially in areas where winter days are very short or there are big changes in the amount of daylight in different seasons. It has also been questioned whether having a close relative with SAD is a factor. Causes
What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder? The mechanisms remain mysterious, but researchers believe that it is related to the amount of melatonin produced in our bodies. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland that causes drowsiness and is directly related to hibernation cycles of other mammals) (mentalhealth). Light enters the eyes and is conducted by the optic nerve to an area of the...