Seasonal Affective Disorder

San Jose Counseling and Psychotherapy

depression-counseling-san-jose-seasonal-affective-disorderSeasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a group of depressive disorders that go by many names including winter depression, winter blues, summer depression, summer blues, or seasonal depression.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5 considers seasonal affective disorder a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms in the winter or summer.

As many as 25 percent of American are thought to suffer from some form of SAD serious enough to warrant depression treatment.

Signs and Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Because SAD is a cyclic, seasonal condition, the signs and symptoms usually come back and go away at the same times every year. SAD symptoms generally appear during late fall or early winter and go away during the warmer, sunnier days of spring and summer.

However, a smaller percentage of people have the opposite pattern, developing seasonal affective disorder with the onset of spring or summer. In either case, problems may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses. Although suicidal ideation occurs less frequently in patients with SAD than in those with nonseasonal depression, it can happen nonetheless.

Winter SAD: Fall and Winter Depression. Sometimes called “the winter blues,” the symptoms of winter-onset SAD tend to begin in the fall, peak in the winter and usually resolve in the spring. The symptoms of fall and winter SAD include:

  • Depressed mood
  • Feeling of hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Lethargy, loss of energy
  • Oversleeping
  • Isolation, social withdrawal
  • Apathy, loss of interest in regular activities
  • Weight gain usually accompanied by food cravings
  • Trouble with concentration and focusing

Summer SAD: Spring and Summer Depression

depression-counseling-san-jose-seasonal-affective-disorder-2Some people suffer from SAD during the summer, and their symptoms go away during fall and winter. Symptoms of summer-onset SAD include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Poor appetite and weight loss
  • Manic phases of euphoria and hyperactivity

Who is at Risk for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Exactly how seasonal changes effect depression and mood is unknown, but various etiologies have been suggested. Most of the research looking into the mechanisms of SAD have focused on changes in levels of the brain chemicals melatonin and serotonin in response to changing exposure to light and darkness.

In some people, dimmer light during the winter months cannot be processed properly because there’s a problem in the connection between the retina and the pineal gland. Geographical location appears to be a risk factor.

Norman Rosenthal, a pioneer in SAD research, has estimated that the prevalence of SAD in the adult U.S. population is at about 1.5% in sunny Florida as opposed to 9% in the cloudier northern states, such as Illinois. In fact, all of these scenarios may contribute to the onset of SAD.

Depression Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Psychotherapy is a useful option for treating seasonal depression. Although SAD is thought to be related to biochemical processes, mood and behavior can also contribute to symptoms.

Psychotherapy can help identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that can aggravate mood. Psychotherapy can provide healthy ways to cope with SAD and manage stress.

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