Many of us may feel a little down when fall arrives with its shorter days and an end to summer fun. Yet for some people the blues become more than just a bad mood.
As many as one in five Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, according to the National Mental Health Disorders Association. Nearly 5 percent of people suffer from a severe form. Also called "winter depression," SAD is known for its major depressive episodes that begin in the late fall to early winter months and remit during the summer months. Less common is a spring-onset type, or “summer depression.”
The condition is considered a clinical diagnosis, and it is marked by periods of depression followed by periods of normal or high mood the rest of the year. According to SCL Physician Dr. Heather Banks, SAD is considered to be a form of clinical depression with a seasonal onset and remission, rather than a separate mood disorder. Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D., is the researcher credited with discovering SAD.
Onset usually occurs during adulthood, with the average onset occurring at approximately age 23. It is more likely to affect women than men, Dr. Banks said. Symptoms include:
- Increased sleep
- Increased appetite with carbohydrate craving
- Increased weight
- Interpersonal difficulties, especially rejection sensitivity
- Leaden paralysis – heavy, leaden feelings in arms or legs
Fortunately for SAD sufferers, treatment is available and you don’t have to wait for the spring thaw to feel yourself again. Treatment options usually include light therapy or anti-depressant medications.
“Light therapy involves exposure to visible light that produces 10,000-lux for 30 minutes per day,” Dr. Banks said. “Some patients have an immediate response to light therapy, though typically it takes two to four days and sometimes up to several weeks for patients to respond. Randomized trials have found that antidepressants are beneficial for patients with fall-onset SAD.”
Two seasonal patterns of symptoms have been identified with SAD: a fall-onset type, also called "winter depression," in which major depressive episodes begin in the late fall to early winter months and remit during the summer months, and a spring-onset type, also called "summer depression," in which the severe depressive episode begins in late spring to early summer.
If you think you may suffer from SAD, consult your doctor or healthcare provider. Find an SCL Health doctor near you.
You can also take our Seasonal Affective Disorder Quiz to learn more.