While it’s a merry holiday season for many, it’s also a SAD season for some, especially for people in the higher risk groups for Seasonal Affective Disorder, including those with a family history of depression, females, young adults, and people living far from the equator (where winter daylight hours are short), according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
A type of depression, SAD “comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter, and going away during the spring. Depression episodes linked in the summer can occur, but are much less common.”
The NIH lists symptoms of the winter pattern of SAD: having low energy, sleeping excessively, overeating, gaining weight, craving carbohydrates, and withdrawing socially.
While the causes of SAD are unknown, research has found biological clues including an insufficiency of Vitamin D, and an overproduction of melatonin which regulates sleep, NIH says. The reduced level of sunlight in the fall and winter may also interfere with a person’s serotonin production, which affects mood.
Four major types of treatment include medication, light therapy, psychotherapy, and Vitamin D supplementation.
“Since seasonal depression has a predictable pattern of recurrence, preventative measures may help to reduce symptoms. Begin light therapy before the onset of symptoms, exercise more, increase the amount of light at home, meditate, and use other stress management techniques. Try spending more time outside, and visit climates that have more sun,” suggests Mental Health America.
In Scandinavian countries where sunlight can be scarce, they have light-therapy clinics, giant rotating sunlight mirrors, and positive thinking reminders to overcome SAD, reports The Atlantic. In southern Sweden in January, the sun rises after 8:30 a.m. and sets before 4 p.m. It’s estimated that 8% of Sweden’s population suffers from SAD. MedlinePlus reports that SAD’s prevalence in the U.S. ranges from 1.4% in Florida, to 9.9% in Alaska.
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