There’s a disorder that affects millions of Americans during the fall and winter seasons. Have you heard of it? It’s called SAD… Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Temperatures drop, the air is crisper, the angle of the sun in the sky changes… signs that summer’s over and fall is here. Unfortunately, with it, comes SAD. Not sad because summer’s over, but SAD as in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This disorder is estimated to affect 10 million Americans or about 5% of people in the U.S. Aptly named, SAD is a seasonal type of depression that displays its symptoms during fall and winter, when the weather is much colder.
SAD, also known as winter depression or seasonal depression, is caused by light changes during fall and winter and the effect they have on the part of the brain that controls many bodily functions. Helen Hanson, chair of the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association (SADA), explains: ‘The nerve centres in the brain, which control our daily rhythms and moods, are stimulated by the amount of light entering the eyes. During the night, a gland in the brain called the pineal gland produces melatonin, which makes us drowsy and suppresses the production of the feel-good hormone serotonin. At daybreak, natural light stops this process – but on dull days there’s not enough light to do so. As a result our body’s natural clock, known as our circadian rhythm, becomes disrupted.’ This is why people with SAD tend to feel moody and lethargic.
Treating SAD: Antidepressants
Because SAD is basically a type of depression, it can be treated with antidepressants. Antidepressant use is commonly reserved for more sever cases of SAD. An extended-release version of the antidepressant bupropion (Wellbutrin XL, Aplenzin) may help prevent depressive episodes in people with a history of SAD. Other antidepressants also may commonly be used to treat SAD. (mayoclinic.org)
Treating SAD: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are actually a type of antidepressant that is preferred for the treatment of SAD. SSRIs help increase the level of serotonin in your brain, and since serotonin is partially responsible for controlling your mood, this could help persons with SAD.
Treating SAD: Light Therapy
This type of treatment involves the use of a ‘light box’. The light box produces a very bright light that people sit in for about thirty minutes to an hour a day. You can sit in front of the light while performing some of your normal activities, such as reading, working or watching TV. Light boxes simulate the sunlight that’s missing during the winter months and can help spark the production of vitamin D and serotonin while balancing the levels of melatonin (the sleep hormone).
Some people with SAD also benefit from more exposure to sunlight/natural light. Some ways they do this is by making simple lifestyle changes, like opening curtains or blinds, sitting closer to windows or skylights or simply spending longer periods outside in the open air.
SAD can affect almost anyone. Your health professional will use a series of tests to diagnose SAD, including physical and lab test, a psych exam or DSM-5 (the criteria for seasonal depressive episodes listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association.) If you’ve been diagnosed with SAD, we might have some solutions at Walker’s Drug Store to help. Talk to your health professional and collaboratively decide on the best way forward for treating your SAD.