Sussing SAD (also known as) Seasonal Affective Disorder

If you’re one of those lucky few who summer in NZ and winter in Marbella, stop reading now.   But if even the thought of winter brings on the doldrums, this is for you.

Mayo Clinic describes Seasonal Affective Disorder as a type of depression that is related to the change in season, and most people who suffer with it find their symptoms start in autumn and persist through winter.  Symptoms can include feeling depressed or hopeless, having low energy or reduced interest in activities, sleep problems, changes in appetite, sluggishness or agitation, difficulty concentrating, or thoughts of suicide.  Affected persons might feel irritable, have a hard time getting along with others, become hypersensitive to rejection, oversleep or experience food cravings.

So why do some people experience SAD?   Living far from the equator is a factor, putting Kiwis in the line of fire, yet populations in some Northern countries possess genes that protect them from developing SAD.  That explains why researchers note that the majority of Icelanders don’t struggle with SAD.  The reduction in sunlight also causes a drop in serotonin which affects mood.  Adding insult to injury, there can be a disruption in melatonin, confounding things further with sleep issues.

A factor that may put a person at risk of developing SAD is a history of depression or bipolar disorder.  Females are diagnosed with SAD more often than men, but men may experience more severe symptoms.  The risk is also greater for younger people than older adults.

If you suspect SAD might be an issue, it would be wise to get assessed by your doctor.  S/he will want to know your symptoms, when they started, if there is a pattern, and if you’re experiencing any major stressors in your life.  Your doctor may decide to order blood tests to rule out other problems that could explain your symptoms.

Let there be light!  If your doctor confirms that you have SAD, there are a number of treatment strategies, but first line therapy with light may be all that’s needed.   Thirty minutes of exposure to bright sunlight or a special light box first thing in the morning may positively affect your circadian rhythms, easing your symptoms.  If that fails to ignite your spark, medication can be tried.  Along with these treatments, some people find talk therapy helpful.  If your depressed state includes suicidal thoughts, counseling plays an important role in reclaiming the spring in your step when winter threatens to take over your life. Give me a call (Mary Ellen) on 8589 891 if you would like to know more.