Mental Health Awareness Week; Day 5: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

It is Day 5 of Mental Health Awareness Week. Today I will be discussing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It is sort of a continuation of yesterdays topic of depression. SAD is personal to me as well because I was (and still am) diagnosed with it. This is another diagnosis I have had over half of my life. Again the information I am going to give you is from National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website which is nami.org.

What is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

     The symptoms of depression are very common. Some people experience these only at times of stress, while others may experience them regularly at certain ties of the year. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is characterized by recurrent episodes of depression, usually in late fall and winter, alternating with periods of normal periods of normal or high mood the rest of the year.

Whether SAD is a distinct mental illness or s specific type of major depressive disorder is a topic of debate in the scientific literature. Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) first posited the condition as a response to decreased light, and pioneered the use of bright light to address the symptoms. It has been suggested that women are more likely to have the illness than men and that SAD is less likely in older individuals. SAD can also occur in children and adolescents, in which is usually first suspected by parents and teachers rather than the individual themselves.

While no specific genes has been shown to cause SAD, many people with this illness report at least one close relative with a psychiatric condition – most frequently a severe depressive disorder or substance abuse. Scientists have identified that a chemical within the brain ( a neurotransmitter called serotonin) ma not be functioning optimally in many patients with SAD. The role of hormones, specifically melatonin, and sleep-wake cycles (also called circadian rhythms) during the changing seasons is still being studied in people with SAD. Some studies have also shown that SAD is more common in people who live in Northern latitudes (e.g., Canada and Alaska as opposed to California and Florida).

What are the patterns of SAD?

For all depressive episodes, it is important to understand the patter of the condition, in other words, what stressors or triggers contribute to the depressive symptoms. In SAD, the seasonal variation in mood states is the key dimension to understand. Through recognition of the pattern of symptoms over time, developing a more targeted treatment plan is possible.

Symptoms of SAD usually begin in October or November and subside in March or April. Some patients begin to “slump” as early as August, while others remain well until January. Regardless of the time of onset, most patients don’t feel fully “back to normal” until early May. Depressions are usually mild to moderate but they can be severe. Treatment planning needs to match the severity of the condition for the individual. Safety is the first consideration in all assessment of depression, as suicide can be a risk for more severe depressive symptoms. Although some individuals do not necessarily show these symptoms, the classic  characteristics of recurrent winter depression include oversleeping, daytime fatigue, carbohydrate craving and weight gain. Additionally, many people may experience other features of depression including decreased sexual interest, lethargy, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, lack of interest in normal activities and decreased socialization.

In a minority of cases, symptoms occur in the summer rather than winter. During that period, the depression is more likely to be characterized by insomnia, decreased appetite, weight loss and agitation or anxiety. In still fewer cases,a patient may experience both winter and summer depressions, while feeling fine each fall and spring, around the equinoxes. Many people with SAD also report that their depression worsens or reappears whenever there is “less light around” (e.g., the weather is overcast any time of the year, or if their indoor lighting is decreased).

Some people with Bipolar Disorder can also have seasonal changes in heir mood and experience acute episodes in a recurrent fashion at different times of the year.I has been classically described that some people with bipolar disorder are more likely to experience depressive episodes in the fall/winter and manic episodes in spring/summer.

A person with any of these symptoms should feel comfortable asking their doctors about SAD. A full medical evaluation of a person who is experiencing these symptoms for the first time should include a thorough physical examination as well as blood (e.g., thyroid testing) and urine testing (e.g., pregnancy testing, drug screening). A medical evaluation is appropriate because SAD can often be misdiagnosed as hypothyroidism, infectious mononucleosis or other medical conditions.

Again I got this information from NAMI’s website at nami.org. I hope that I am able to convey to you the reader and/or follower on what I am wanting to educate you all on. It being Mental Health Awareness Week it is my desire to educate people especially those who do not have any mental health diagnoses.

I deal with the symptoms of SAD the same way I deal with Depression. If you want to know how I deal with depression you can easily read yesterdays blog titled Mental Health Awareness Week; Day 4: Depression. SAD effects me mainly in late autumn through mid spring. It is key with any mental health diagnosis to know what your triggers are and I know what my triggers are with SAD. As with any mental health diagnosis treatment is another key compounding element with SAD.

I hope that I will be able to blog again tomorrow to continue to educate other on another mental health condition. It is my hopes that my blogging about mental illness that maybe just maybe the stigma that surrounds mental illness will start to lessen. Stigma is a major reason why those who suffer from mental illness suffer in silence and alone. Please don’t be afraid to share this on any social media site you want just as long as it is in a respectful manner. Have a good day everyone. Peace out!!!!

5 responses to “Mental Health Awareness Week; Day 5: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

  1. Very good info. I live in KCMO, and though not severe, I do feel a little differently emotionally during winter months, especially when the sun doesn’t shine and it is grey and cold. Thanks for sharing..

  2. I just picked up a Compact Light to help with my SAD moods. I’ve also increased my Vitamin D as well. I do struggle, and I am really hoping this year will be different. Great post!

  3. Great job educating your readers. I’ve been tweeting your posts. I had serious SAD symptoms when I lived in Eugene. I couldn’t stay awake during the day or while driving in the rain. We ended up moving back to sunny Southern California, the “geographic cure.”

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