Seasonal affective disorder is a type of recurrent depression. It is sort of mood disorder which usually occurs during the fall of winter and increases as the winter months progress. These people have otherwise perfect mental health. Severity of the illness varies from person to person. People with severe SAD - seasonal affective disorder might be affected by bipolar disorder. Individuals who experience similar symptoms in summer are supposed to be affected by reverse seasonal affective disorder. SAD is also known as ‘winter blues’, ‘winter depression’ or ‘hibernation reaction’. With SAD, an individual experiences signs of depression like fatigue, disinterest in daily activities and lethargy as the winter months approach and the daylight period begins to decrease.
Whom does SAD affect?
• Women are more vulnerable to SAD than men are
• Children and adolescents
• People between ages of 15 to 50 years
• Someone who has at least one close relative affected by some sort of psychiatric condition
• Prior severe depression disorder
• People who intake excessive alcohol
• Individuals who live in extreme northern countries where winters are extremely severe and there is major fluctuation in daylight
Seasonal affective disorder symptoms
People usually experience atypical somatic symptoms
• Irritability without reason
• Fluctuating moods
• Weight gain (craving for starchy and carbohydrate foods)
• Disinterest in daily activities
• Guilt feeling
• Feeling of worthlessness, pessimism and restlessness
• Loss of energy
• Suicidal tendency in severe cases
• Oversleeping especially during the day
• Difficulty concentrating
• Disinterest in socializing
Causes of SAD
Common factors that lead to SAD are reduced light, hormones, body temperature and genes. SAD is believed to be associated with change in levels of serotonin and melatonin levels. It has been observed that the level of short-allele polymorphism required for serotonin transporter in the body is commonly found in patients affected by SAD. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that acts as a neurotransmitter for the body. It plays vital role in mood change. Reduced sunlight for prolonged periods is believed to reduce serotonin levels in the body that leads to SAD. A study conducted on SAD revealed that if the body is unable to convert serotonin chemical into N-acetylserotonin, it leads to development of depressive symptoms.
Another chemical that is associated with sleep is melatonin. Melatonin chemical is produced by the pineal gland in the body when it is dark. The pineal gland is directly linked to the retina through retinohypothalamic tract and suprachiasmatic nucleus. Lower vitamin D level is also believed to be a contributor in development of SAD. In addition, the circadian rhythm the biological clock that controls sleep cycle may be disrupted due to reduced daylight, thus disturbing the natural body clock of sleeping and waking up in the morning. Recent scientific research suggested that mutation of a gene melanopsin might have association with development of SAD.
Seasonal affective disorder treatment
Seasonal affective disorder light therapy has been found to be successful treatment for SAD. A special lamp that produces up to 10,000 lux (lumens) is used to mimic sunlight or sunrise in the morning. Sitting in front of the lamp for about 30 minutes in a day has proved to be extremely useful. However, certain side effects like headache and eye pain have been reported due to prolonged use of seasonal affective disorder lamp.
Apart from light therapy, medication like anti-depressants, cognitive behavioral therapy, ionized air administration and psychotherapy are various treatments that aid in improving seasonal affective disorder symptoms. SAD is a mild depression illness. People affected by the illness are perfectly normal as the illness is triggered by external climatic factors rather than internal body malfunctions. Hence, in most cases, as the gloomy winter months pass by so does the aliment.