Everybody’s had the blues, according to the old Merle Haggard song. Though it’s true that everyone experiences profound sadness during their lifetime, most would agree that there’s a big difference between a temporary bout of the blues and a depression that affect’s one’s ability to cope.
Yet there’s one kind of depression whose key characteristic is how it ebbs and flows: Seasonal Affect Disorder.
What Is Seasonal Affect Disorder?
Season Affect Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that occurs over the span of a weather season. Just like depression, sufferers of this malady may experience all or some of the following symptoms:
- Sadness and/or swings of mood
- Apathy and/or disinterest in activities that were once enjoyed
- Loneliness and/or self-imposed isolation
- Changes in sleep patterns such as sleeping excessively or insomnia
- Appetite changes and/or weight gain
Since there are treatments for SAD that are unique to the condition, paying extra attention to certain other factors is critical to an accurate diagnosis.
What Distinguishes SAD From Depression?
Depression is a persistent, unrelenting condition that pays no mind to what’s going on out-of-doors. The onset and ebbing of symptoms for SAD, on the other hand, is linked to the time of year. Most suffers find that the symptoms begin in the late fall and worsen through the dark of winter, and they do so every year. In rare cases, some sufferers experience these conditions during the spring and summer.
Researchers believe that the waning of natural light triggers certain biochemical changes. Melatonin levels begin to vary, which can disrupt your circadian rhythms. The reduction of sunlight can also alter the production of serotonin, the brain’s mood-regulating drug.
In order for a mental health professional to make a clinical diagnosis of SAD, two cycles of the experience are necessary to be sure. There are also particular risk factors for SAD to take into account:
- A family history of SAD or depression
- Women are more prone than men; 75% of sufferers are women
- Younger people are more likely to be diagnosed; late-life onset is less common
Many mental health issues share similar symptoms, which can make them hard to accurately diagnose. If you think that you, a friend, or a family member may be suffering from Seasonal Affect Disorder, contact a mental health professional to get the help needed.