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Seasonal Affective Disorder: Signs and Symptoms

11/29/2017 09:53AM ● Published by Digital Media Director

By: Dr. Amy Marschall, Sioux Falls Psychological Services

While people around you get excited for the falling leaves, do you find yourself dreading shorter days? Do you feel like the stress of the holidays hits you harder than those around you? There may be a psychological reason for your “holiday blues.”

Seasonal Affective Disorder (commonly known as SAD) is a type of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) in which episodes are set off by the low light of the fall and winter seasons. It’s estimated between four and six percent of people experience severe depressive symptoms with a seasonal pattern, but up to 20 percent of people may suffer from mild symptoms of SAD, which impacts their mood or functioning.

Although people with SAD can experience depression in the spring and summer, most people with this disorder experience depression during the fall and winter months. While children can have symptoms of SAD, symptoms typically emerge after age 20. Because SAD is caused by low exposure to sunlight, some people with this disorder benefit from exposure to a special light bulb that mimics sunlight.

Since SAD is a form of depression, symptoms are the same as a depressive episode.

·         Frequent sad or low mood

·         Not finding pleasure or interest in activities you used to enjoy

·         Tiredness or low energy

·         Changes in sleep patterns (either sleeping much more than usual or not being able to sleep)

·         Irritable mood

·         Changes in appetite

·         Feeling hopeless or worthless

·         In some cases, thoughts of death or suicide

As with other forms of depression, it’s common for individuals suffering from SAD to downplay their symptoms or write off their depressed mood as “holiday blues,” or stress.  They may feel their symptoms are not “bad enough” to seek help or they don’t deserve to feel better. In a blog written for the organization To Write Love on Her Arms, Kelly Jensen wrote, “The first lie my depression told me was that I did not have depression.

Fortunately, SAD is very treatable. A combination of antidepressant medication, psychotherapy, or light therapy can alleviate the symptoms of SAD. If you think you have some of these symptoms, even if they seem mild, meet with a therapist to discuss your treatment options.  You deserve to feel and be your best. 

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