Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that occurs during the same time each year. Most people report symptoms that begin in the late fall and persist into the spring months. However, many people also report an opposite pattern with symptoms beginning in the spring and lasting throughout the summer months. Practitioners have found that this disorder can have both a winter or summer onset and symptoms often begin gradually, intensifying as the season progresses.
For diagnostic purposes, Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) is no longer considered a separate mood disorder. Instead it is used as a qualifier to reflect the seasonal pattern of depression that some people experience. Therefore, one might be diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern or Bipolar Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern rather than the traditional Seasonal Affective Disorder. However, since most people still commonly refer to this emotional pattern as S.A.D. this article will also reference it in the same manner.
It is believed that Seasonal Affective Disorder has biological, environmental, and natural components that contribute to its occurrence. People who suffer from the disorder generally have a biological predisposition to depression which is exacerbated by season specific natural and environmental factors.
For instance, according to the Mayo Clinic the decreased light during the winter months can throw off your body’s natural biochemistry. This disruption of your body’s ability to produce serotonin and melatonin likely contributes to the onset of symptoms among individuals who are already vulnerable to depression. Similarly, WebMD shares that the oppressive weather conditions that are characteristic of the summer months may contribute to the summer onset of depressive symptoms. It is believed that behavioral changes, to include various levels of personal isolation in an attempt to avoid the heat, may trigger symptoms in individuals who have a predisposition for mood dysfunction. Unfortunately, the natural environmental changes that accompany seasonal shifts are thought to contribute to seasonal depression. Other environmental factors can include disrupted schedules, poor body image, and financial strain.
Both summer and winter onset Seasonal Affective Disorder is reported to be quite disruptive to the person experiencing the illness. While family and friends are swimming at the beach or out enjoying other types of summer activities, someone experiencing summer onset S.A.D. may be quite miserable as the stress of the summer season piles on top of them. Likewise, the short cold days of winter may send someone spiraling down the slippery slope of major depression. Although it may seem like it’s just the “Winter Blues” or a little summer moodiness, it’s important to know when to get help. This starts with understanding the symptoms of seasonal depression.
The Mayo Clinic indicates that symptoms of winter onset Seasonal Affective Disorder generally include:
- Loss of energy
- Heavy “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating
Additionally, WebMD describes symptoms of summer onset depression as:
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight loss
Though symptoms of winter and summer onset depression are different, they do share one thing in common – the need for treatment. If someone believes that they are experiencing symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder- it’s extremely important to seek help. With a combination of psychotherapy, medication, light therapy (winter onset) and the adjustment of environmental triggers – an effective individualized regimen can be developed.
The last thing that someone wants to do is to ignore their symptoms or try to convince themselves to wait the season out. After all, “While the symptoms (do) lift in a few months, the impact (that the disorder has) on your family and job can be permanent” (WebMD.) Seasonal Affective Disorder is a serious illness but it does NOT have to seriously disrupt your life. Remember, proper treatment early on can help prevent further complications.
Aysha Ives is a Freelance Writer & Social Media Content Consultant who specializes in providing content for professionals in the mental health field. Using her astute writing ability and uncanny ability to powerfully interact with others, Aysha consistently delivers high quality content that her clients love.
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