SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that occurs in teens and adults who live in areas where there is a significant lack of sunshine. It occurs most often in the fall of the year and tends to worsen as fall turns to winter. It is a disease or condition with no real test to diagnose it, but instead is brought to light by evaluating symptoms and talking with a doctor. It is more common in women, although both men and women can be affected. While there is no surefire cure for SAD, it is treated with phototherapy (use of special lights), psychotherapy and certain medications. It is thought that a lack of sunlight may be the main cause of this disorder and that the lack of sunlight may cause a drop in serotonin levels, affecting mood.
Symptoms of SAD
The symptoms of SAD are many and they tend to become more pronounced over time. There is a feeling of hopelessness in the sufferer. She may have an increased appetite and gain unwanted weight, adding to the unhappiness. She sleeps more but has less energy and loses interest in normal activities. She may appear sluggish and withdrawn socially. She is definitely unhappy and irritable.
As stated earlier, there is no clinical test to diagnose SAD. But it’s very important to see a therapist, perhaps beginning with a primary care physician and then moving on by referral to a therapist skilled in treating depression. There are anti-depressant medications that have been used with some success. Talk therapy, just expressing the feelings and having another person listen, is sometimes helpful.
Light therapy is helpful for some sufferers of SAD. Large lights with 10,000 lux are used to mimic the light from the sun. Without looking directly at the light, the patient sits under the light with eyes open so the light can hit the retina. Some SAD patients use a light box for thirty minutes a day. It is best if the light therapy is begun in the early fall months before symptoms have even begun.
Though SAD is a relatively light form of depression, the symptoms are distressing to the sufferers. It’s important for them to do whatever they can on their own to deal with the circumstances of the disease. First of all it’s vital to eat a healthy diet and get enough rest. Exercise, especially doing those things you really enjoy, may also help. It’s important to have a plan worked out in the event that the symptoms worsen. A self-help plan might include a regular schedule of work and activities, a diet plan, a regular time to talk with a friend or health professional and light therapy as the symptoms increase. It’s important to avoid alcohol and illegal drugs as they tend to make the problem worse.
Hope for the Future
All depression is serious. But in the case of SAD, the symptoms will decrease and most likely disappear when the weather improves. If at all possible, it might be helpful to move to a climate with more natural sunshine. And, taking the prescribed medications exactly as the doctor orders is a key to feeling better. Light therapy should be done under the care of a physician also as the sessions can trigger bipolar episodes in some people.
With proper management, Seasonal Affective Disorder can be managed and the patient can live a normal, productive life. For more information see the following websites.