What is Seasonal Affective Disorder? Do you struggle with the winter blues? Or is it actually something more than that? Some sadness and feeling down is normal during the winter months, especially if you live in a location with lots of snow and regular overcast. If it is more persistent then it may actually be a mental health condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that falls under the category of depression. SAD can have a significant impact on your daily life and how you function. According to The American Psychiatric Association, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a disorder that affects around 5% of the US population anywhere from early Fall into Spring. In the United States SAD can last anywhere from September to March. What are the Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder? The causes of SAD are not fully understood but there are some common contributing factors to the mental health condition. A major factor is a reduction in sunlight during the winter months. Decreased sunlight can lead to a variety of issues such as a decrease in Vitamin D, a decrease in serotonin production, as well as an overproduction of melatonin. Serotonin is known as the “happy chemical”. It is a chemical in your body that stabilizes your mood and feelings of happiness. Serotonin affects your mood, eating habits, and sleeping habits. Melatonin is a hormone released by the pineal gland that is released when it’s dark. It controls your sleep and wake schedule. With the sun setting earlier and earlier during the winter months, you will experience an overproduction of melatonin which causes fatigue, grogginess, tiredness, and exhaustion which leads to a disruption to your sleep routine.(NLMNIH)Those are some of the causes but there may be other factors we aren’t aware of at this time. The Signs and Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder: These are common symptoms of SAD. Do you struggle with any of these symptoms during the winter months? Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day, losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, having low energy, oversleeping, appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates, weight gain or weight loss, tiredness, low motivation, agitation, anxiety, having problems with sleeping, experiencing changes in your appetite or weight, feeling sluggish, having difficulty concentrating, feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty, having frequent thoughts of death or suicide (Mayo Clinic). Treatments and Options: If you are struggling with some of the signs and symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, you don’t have to feel helpless because there are some effective treatments for the mental health condition. If you believe you are struggling from Seasonal Affective Disorder, speak with your doctor about your treatment options. Your doctor may give you The Seasonal Pattern Assessment Questionnaire (SPAQ) screening tool to assess the severity of your seasonal depression. One of the most effective treatments of SAD is utilizing artificial light. Light Therapy lamps or boxes can be easily purchased online. Some doctors prescribe them as well. Speak with your doctor for instructions on how often to use your lightbox. Other treatments include taking daily Vitamin D supplements. If you find that the lightbox and Vitamin D supplements do not help, then speak with your doctor about taking antidepressants temporarily during the winter months. Therapy is also recommended. If you only struggle during the winter months then these options may only need to be used temporarily. This is a fairly common condition. There is no need to feel ashamed about needing some extra help during the winter. If you are struggling then seek out the help you need. You don’t need to struggle or suffer every year during the winter.