What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder that occurs during late autumn and winter. It is characterised by lethargy, low mood, anhedonia, fatigue, and (in some cases) impaired sleep. Due to low energy and the loss of interest in activities the individual may become socially isolated, and prone to over-eating and excess alcohol consumption.
SAD is not the same as depression, although many of the symptoms are similar. Depression is either a long-term disorder related to chemical imbalance in the brain, or else a reaction to overwhelming life events in which the individual develops learned helplessness. Seasonal Affective Disorder is partly caused by over-production of melatonin, and under-production of Vitamin D due to reduced sun light. Melatonin in large amounts increases sleepiness and lethargy, while low Vitamin D reduces serotonin release – a key neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is partly genetic in origin, as individuals are more likely to develop the problem if one or both parents have SAD.
Research also shows that people with brown eyes are more likely to have SAD than those with blue eye colour. Further evidence suggests that this may be due to reduced sensitivity to light in those with dark eye colour, as is also the case with those who are blind, or partially blind.
According to the American Psychiatric Association roughly 5% of the general population suffer from seasonal affective disorder, with women four times more likely to have it than men. The prevalence of SAD amongst the population is also far higher in northern latitudes, particularly in Canada, the UK and Scandinavia.
You can download a self-test questionnaire for SAD/Depression on the link below.
Is Seasonal Affective Disorder treatable in therapy?
Since SAD is not caused by psychological factors it is not by itself an appropriate condition for treatment in psychotherapy. However, some sufferers may be vulnerable to both SAD and clinical depression. In such cases, particularly if symptoms last beyond the winter months, psychotherapy is advisable.
Sufferers should consult a medical practitioner for advice on treatment in the first instance. There are also a variety of non-medical aids which are described below.
Remedies for Seasonal Affective Disorder
If you suspect that you may have SAD you are advised to consult a medical practitioner in the first instance. Listed below are the most common aids to treating the condition.
Vitamin D supplements are available from all health stores.
Serotonin boosters. St. John’s Wort is a herbal remedy that has been used for centuries to improve mood. 5HTP is an amino-acid linked to serotonin production, and is also available in most health stores.
Omega-3 is a fatty acid commonly taken in the diet for those with mood disorders.
Light therapy. Light boxes, so-called, are a standard treatment for SAD. They are small lamps emitting strong light that can be placed on your office desk or kitchen table. 20-30 minutes a day is effective for most people.
Regular exercise. As with any mood disorder daily aerobic exercise is strongly recommended in order to overcome lethargy. Exercises such as running, rowing or cycling increase endorphin release, which also improves mood.
There is no cure for SAD as it is a seasonal condition related to your body type. However, it is possible to manage it in such a way that it does not impair your life-style.