Seasonal Affective Disorder: What you should know

Author: Liz Kovac

While October brings anticipation for the upcoming holiday season, it is also the time that seasonal depression sets in. The official term for seasonal depression is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and it can develop into more than just the ‘winter blues.’

What causes seasonal affective disorder?

“SAD is linked to prolonged lack of sunlight and cold temperatures,” said Carrie Lovik, Physician Assistant at McLaren Lapeer Region. “Vitamin deficiency, biological clock changes, and negative emotions that colder months elicit all can play a role in causing the symptoms of SAD.”

SAD is considered depression and its signs include:

  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Sleeping more
  • Carbohydrate cravings and weight gain
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Heavy limbs
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

How do you know if you have SAD?

“It is important to consult your primary care provider about what you’re experiencing instead of diagnosing yourself,” said Lovik. To properly diagnose you, your primary care provider will ask if you have had the symptoms of SAD during the colder, darker seasons for at least two years in a row and if you experience these symptoms more frequently during these times.

How is SAD treated?

Light therapy: Light therapy, or phototherapy, has been proven to help with SAD symptoms. There is a lamp specifically for those who suffer from SAD that is meant to be left on throughout the day to replicate sunlight.

Vitamin D: “Taking a vitamin D supplement is crucial during the fall and winter,” said Lovik. “Additionally, if you are not taking a multi-vitamin, this time of year is a good time to start.”

Maintaining a balanced diet: This plays a large role in keeping SAD at bay. Carbohydrates should be consumed in healthy moderation with fruits, vegetables, and protein.  

Medications: Talk with your primary care provider about the possibility of medication.

Consider Counseling: It may be in your best interest to go to a mental health professional who is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. This kind of therapy focuses on challenging and changing negative thoughts to improve your emotional state while developing coping strategies. Learn more about McLaren Lapeer Region’s Behavioral Health services here.

Visit your primary care provider if you are experiencing the symptoms of SAD or call 810-667-5714 to find a physician that is right for you.

If you or someone you know is suicidal, head to the nearest emergency room immediately or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.