As the leaves begin to change colors and the days become shorter, a cool chill begins to blow through the air. The water temperatures begin to drop in the oceans and lakes, and the sun begins to set earlier and earlier. Rain becomes more common, and it may even begin to snow. Goodbye summer and hello fall, the season when six percent of Americans will begin to experience symptoms of mild depression known as seasonal-affective-disorder (SAD).
SAD comes and goes with the changing of the seasons. While it is possible to have SAD during the summer months, this form of depression is much more rare. In fact, research shows us that those who live in colder climates that experience less sun are much more susceptible to this disorder. For example, Florida has a SAD prevalence rate of 1% in comparison to a 9% rate in New England and Alaska. It's even higher (14%) in Norway. This milder form of depression is caused by a lack of sunlight and typically subsides after four to five months once the weather begins to warm up and the days become longer. Fourteen percent of Americans will experience an even milder form of SAD, referred to as the winter blues.
Are Some People More Susceptible?
Living in a colder climate isn't the only variable that can make a person more susceptible to developing SAD. Women, for example, are four times more likely to have SAD than males. Other factors include family history, age (younger adults are at a higher risk), already having had episodes of depression or bipolar disorder (only a SAD DX if more prevalent during winter months), and biological factors including:
- Less production of Vitamin D
- Difficulty regulating the neurotransmitter serotonin—5% less serotonin transporter protein during winter months—a major component in determining mood
- Overproduction of melatonin—responsible for regulating sleep—disrupting circadian rhythms and causing one to sleep more, feel lethargic throughout the day, etc.
In order to diagnose (DX) SAD, an individual must meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression, it must be most prevalent during certain seasonal months, with a pattern formed for at least two years. Common symptoms include:
- Feeling down or sad for most of the day consistently
- Feelings of hopeless
- Feeling worthless
- Low energy
- Lost interest in activities once enjoyed (hobbies, sex, etc.)
- Sleep disruptions or changes
- Appetite and/or weight fluctuations
- Trouble concentrating
- Suicidal ideation or thoughts of death
Symptoms associated with SAD in the Winter mimic hibernation behavior and include:
- Low energy
- Sleeping more
- Eating more
- Gaining weight, eating comfort foods, etc.
Symptoms of SAD in the Summer look like:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
- Behavioral issues (violent outbursts or behaviors)
While seasonal-affective-disorder is no walk in the park, the good news is that there are a variety of treatment options that have proven effective at helping treat and manage the symptoms of SAD. Vitamin supplements such as micronutrients and Vitamin D are incredibly helpful when dealing with these symptoms. Other excellent treatment options include sun lamps, as 60-80% of those with SAD report positive results from light therapy. Psychotherapy is another powerful tool for treating SAD. Some may opt for antidepressants, such as SSRIs, but 50% of people who take these medications report no benefit from them, and there is a laundry list of side-effects that go along with taking such meds, so do use caution and medical supervision when doing so.
Do you or someone you know struggle with seasonal-affective-disorder? If so, you don't have to suffer. Help is available, and we recommend pairing supplements (meds at your discretion) with psychotherapy such as cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) or an integrative approach. Having the tools to fight against SAD is essential, so don't try to weather the winter alone without them. Feel free to give the Focus Essentials supplement a try this fall. If you don't like your first bottle you can have a full refund, as the brand's only intention is to ultimately help you manage your symptoms and heal this winter.