Seasonal affective depression, or SAD, is a type of major depressive disorder that is usually triggered by changes to a person’s environment during the winter or summer months. SAD is often referred to as ‘winter depression,’ ‘seasonal depression,’ ‘summertime sadness’ or ‘winter blues.’
SAD was first formally identified in 1984 by the National Institute of Mental Health, and is prevalent in populations located 30 or more degrees latitude from the equator, in both the northern and southern hemisphere. When is seasonal effective disorder most prevalent? SAD most commonly manifests itself between September and April, with the majority of sufferers experiencing the most extreme mood changes during December, January and February; although according to Mayo Clinic, the illness can also affect people during the extreme summer months; SAD is believed to be exacerbated by Daylight Savings Time.
According to research from Cleveland Clinic, on average three out of four SAD sufferers are women with a typical age of onset between 18 and 30 years old. It is estimated that up to 35% of sufferers require hospitalization at some point during their lifetime. An increased occurrence of SAD is seen among those with Bipolar I or II disorder, and it is believed to provoke rapid cycling, triggering major depressive episodes in the winter months and hypomanic episodes in the summer months. Often times people generalize SAD to erroneously encompass the natural shift in energy people experience during the winter and summer months that don’t disrupt day to day life.
Seasonal Effective Disorder Diagnosis
Diagnosis of SAD can be accurately made after a person experiences two consecutive seasons of symptoms and they meet three other criteria for the illness: marked episodes of depression during a particular time of year, mental health remission and stability during other times of the year with the majority of depressive episodes over a person’s lifetime coming from these seasonal periods. According to American Family Physician, symptoms include heightened depression, anxiety, extreme moods, disrupted sleep patterns, fatigue, appetite changes, and decreased sexual and social desire.
What Causes SAD?
The specific cause for SAD has been a topic of debate across the medical community, as researchers have identified several possible explanations. One factor that may play a role in the onset of SAD is the disruption of the body’s circadian rhythm caused by the change in exposure to sunlight during the winter or summer months. Circadian rhythm refers to biological patterns naturally occurring over a 24-hour period within living organisms in accordance with external cues from their environment.
Studies have also supported that changes in sunlight directly affect the production of serotonin and melatonin within the body. Serotonin is a hormone that effects mood, appetite and sleep, and is synthesized to produce melatonin. Research has demonstrated a lack of exposure to sunlight reduces the amount of serotonin production in the body, causing feelings of depression and an increase in the production of melatonin. Melatonin is integral to the physiological sleep-awake process within the human body. The overproduction of melatonin, caused by a serotonin deficiency, leads a person to feel a heightened amount of lethargy, sleepiness and a lack of motivation.
Seasonal Effective Disorder Treatment Los Angeles
Due to an increased amount of research regarding SAD since its discovery in 1984, sufferers have gained better access to more treatment options for the illness. According to the American Psychiatric Association, SAD is one of the most common sub-types of major depressive disorder, thus medications used to manage the symptoms of depression are critical to the treatment of SAD for many individuals. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, have proven effective by compensating for the serotonin deficiency that typically plague those with SAD.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy and psychotherapy are often used in conjunction with medication to treat patients. The use of bright light therapy has become more prevalent in the treatment of SAD; studies have shown bright light therapy to have a more profound effect on patients than older light therapy treatments, because of its increased amount of lumen emissions from its ‘full spectrum’ lighting.
Physical exercise has historically been effective in the treatment of all types of depression; sufferers of SAD have been especially responsive to this method of treatment, particularly when it is combined with exposure to fresh air and natural light. Melatonin supplements are another common and safe treatment used for SAD to overcome the body’s melatonin deficiency, alongside serotonin.
Although many questions still remain regarding the pathophysiology and cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder, the majority of sufferers have been able to find relief thanks to the evolution of available treatments. As mental illness continues to be one of the most researched areas within the medical community, the future for sufferers of SAD remains bright. As well, brand new, yet highly effective seasonal effective disorder treatments, deep transcranial magnetic stimulation (dTMS) have been FDA-approved to fight depression, especially the kind that is resistant to medication.
For those seeking Los Angeles seasonal affective disorder treatments, Westside Neurotherapeutics can provide dTMS. For more information, contact the company by phone at 310.946.0008 or online at www.westsideneurotherapeutics.com.