Seasonal Affective Disorder
Do you notice that your mood changes as the summer ends and we transition into the fall season? As the days get shorter and the weather gets cooler, you may notice some changes in your daily mood. For some this just feels like “the winter blues” but there is a more debilitating kind called Seasonal Affective Disorder which is a form of clinical depression. Approximately 2 – 6% of Canadians experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, while 15% experience a milder form of winter mood changes. Did you know that women are eight times more likely to experience seasonal affective disorder than men?
People who experience S.A.D. have typical symptoms of depression but their symptoms tend to appear and disappear during the same season each year. These symptoms can include a shift in well-being and mood; a decrease in overall physical, mental and emotional energy and a change in sleep and eating patterns. As a result of S.A.D. people tend to experience a low mood that can last for most of the day and continues for at least two weeks and can affect their performance at work, school, home and in their personal relationships. Other symptoms can include a loss of interest in daily activities, withdrawal from loved ones and peers, feelings of hopelessness, guilt or low self-esteem; irritability; fatigue; difficulty concentrating and decision-making.
The symptoms are usually triggered by daylights savings time as the days get shorter and there is less overall exposure to sunlight. S.A.D. is influenced by decrease in light exposure for the brain and not a result of cold weather or snowfall, although this can have an impact on your mood as well. Daylight savings time can intensify the onset of S.A.D. because people may find it challenging to get up in the morning and even though it is lighter at the start of the day, they are not able to experience the light exposure. Then it gets dark earlier at the end of the day and so people with S.A.D. become less active. These changes in light exposure can impact a person's biological clock, which affects their sleep-wake patterns and disrupts neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine functions.
Are some populations more susceptible to S.A.D. than others? Populations who live either far north or far south of the equator tend to be at a higher risk of developing S.A.D. Also, younger people are more likely to develop SAD but the good news is that the risk of developing S.A.D. decreases with age. If you have a family history of SAD or other forms of depression you may also be more susceptible to developing S.A.D.
If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of S.A.D., consult with your doctor or mental health professional. Be aware of the warning signs and triggers for S.A.D. but don’t self-diagnose as it is best to get checked out by a medical or mental health professional to ensure an accurate diagnosis and treatment. There are effective treatment options for S.A.D. such as light therapy, psychotherapy and medication. You may find that engaging in physical exercise activities and spending more time outdoors may also help to reduce symptoms.
Have you noticed any changes in your mood in the fall or winter or know anyone that does? If you’re struggling, there’s help. Let’s talk about it!