Seasonal depression: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Seasonal Depression (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of sadness brought on by a shift in seasons, most commonly as autumn arrives. This sort of seasonal depression gets worse in the winter and then vanishes away in the spring.
A less severe form of SAD the “winter blues”, may hit certain people. It’s common and natural to be depressed in the winter season. It’s very likely in winters that you’ll be restricted to your home and that night will show up early.
SAD at its most severe form, on the other hand, is a form of depression. Unlike the winter blues, SAD has an influence on your daily life, as well as how you think and feel. Chronic Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Rhythm is a kind of depression identified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a type of depression. Therapy, fortunately, may help you get through this tough time. 

For a long time, people have recognized that moods change with the seasons. Norman Rosenthal along with his colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, MD coined the term Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in a study published in 1984. This Testimony Symposium examined the research that led up to that publication, as well as the 30 years of following study into the illness that affects a large percentage of the population.

Certain people are affected by a rare form of SAD known as “summer depression.”

Causes:

The exact cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder is unknown to researchers. A lack of sunlight may be a trigger for those who are susceptible to the sickness. According to the theories:

  • Transition of biological clock: As a person’s exposure to sunlight decreases, their biological clock moves. Our body’s mood, sleep and hormone levels are regulated by the biological clock. When the biological clock swings, people may find it difficult to control their emotions.
  • Instability of chemicals in the brain: Neurotransmitters, which interact between nerves, are brain chemicals. One of these chemicals is serotonin, which causes happy feelings. In persons who are at risk of developing SAD, serotonin activity may already be diminished. Because serotonin regulation is aided by sunlight, a scarcity of sunlight throughout the winter months might worsen the condition. Serotonin levels in the body might get low even more, producing mood swings.
  • Deficiency of Vitamin D: Serotonin levels are also boosted by vitamin D insufficiency. Because sunlight is required for vitamin D synthesis, a scarcity of sunlight during the winter may result in a vitamin D deficiency. Serotonin levels as well as mood may be affected by this change.
  • Over production of Melatonin: Melatonin is a sleep-regulating hormone. Due to a lack of sunlight, some people may create too much melatonin. They may feel sluggish and fatigued in the cold.
  • Upsetting thoughts: SAD patients usually experience anxiety, worry, and bad thoughts about the winter season. Experts aren’t sure if these worried thoughts are the cause or the result of seasonal depression.

Symptoms:

SAD (Seasonal Depression) is a kind of depression instead of a distinct illness. As a result, patients with seasonal affective disorder may exhibit indicators of sadness, such as: 

  • Sadness and anxiousness
  • Cravings for carbohydrates and gaining weight
  • Excessive exhaustion and decreased energy
  • Feelings of pessimism or insignificance
  • An inability to focus
  • Mood swings
  • You get a heavy feeling in your limbs
  • Losing interest in normal activities, such as retreating from social situations
  • Getting more sleep
  • Suicidal or gloomy thoughts
  • Agitation and restlessness are common symptoms of summer SAD
  • Sudden Stress and Anxiety
  • Weight loss and decreased appetite.
  • Experiencing violent outbursts
  • Sleep disturbances

Diagnosis:

Don’t try to evaluate yourself if you have SAD symptoms. A thorough evaluation should be sought from a medical professional. You might be depressed as a result of a medical condition. On the other side, seasonal affective disorder is frequently an indication of a more serious mental health issue.

Your healthcare provider could recommend you to a trained therapist. These therapists talk with you about your symptoms. They observe your symptoms to see whether you have seasonal effective disorder or another mental illness. You may need to fill out a form to determine if you have SAD. 

Seasonal depression cannot be diagnosed with a blood test or a scan. Your doctor may still suggest testing to rule out other illnesses that cause symptoms similar to SAD.

Treatment:

  • Light therapy (Phototherapy): 

Using a specific lamp, bright light therapy can be used to treat SAD.

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): 

CBT is a type of speech therapy that can help people with SAD. CBT provides the longest-lasting effects of any therapeutic modality, according to research.

  • Anti-depressants: 

Anti-depressant medications may be used alone or in conjunction with light treatment to treat depression.

  • Spending more time outside: 

Getting more sunshine may help you feel better. Put in effort to get outside during the day. Try to increase the amount of light that enters your home or place of work.

  • Vitamin D supplements: 

A vitamin D pill can greatly help in making you feel a lot better. But do consume sunlight from a natural source. Sitting in sunshine for just 30 minutes can help you get equivalent to consuming 10,000–20,000 IU of vitamin D. 

But if you’re living in a place which gets the most snow falling during the year, then make sure you’re consuming healthy foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D such as mushrooms, cheese, egg yolks, fatty fish. While shopping at the grocery store, make sure to add items like yogurt, cereals, soy milk, or orange juice, as all of these contain vitamin D. 

What is the mechanism of action of light therapy?

Light treatment, commonly known as phototherapy, necessitates the use of a specific lamp. It has white fluorescent light bulbs that are UV-protected by a plastic screen. The light should be brighter than the lighting in the normal indoors.

When utilizing phototherapy, avoid staring directly at the light. Place the lamp 2 or 3 feet away from you when reading, dining, or doing other activities.

What medications are effective in treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

SAD can be treated with medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). They uplift your mood by controlling your body’s serotonin levels. 

Bupropion, another authorized antidepressant, is available as an extended-release pill. When taken regularly from autumn until early spring, it can help patients avoid seasonal depressive episodes.

But don’t take any medication recklessly without prescription from a doctor as every medication has its own side effects which must be noted.

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