The short days, frigid weather and a lot of time spent cooped up indoors can lead people to feel down during winter. A lot of people experience the winter blues, but some may experience an extra, more intense drop in their mood. There are several types of depression; all with different causes and triggers. A change in weather may not seem like a possible cause for a serious mental health disorder, but it can cause a serious type of seasonal depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes within the seasons, generally manifesting during the colder end of autumn and winter months when the days are darker, shorter and colder.
What Causes SAD?
The exact cause of SAD is not completely understood, it appears to be due to the combination of various factors. It is known that seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that starts and ends about the same time each year, typically during the late fall and through winter. Some of the causes of SAD are thought to be due to:
- Circadian rhythm (biological clock), which affects the levels of melatonin the body makes.
- Vitamin D deficiency-the decreased sunlight reduces the amount of vitamin D produced in the body.
Does SAD Actually Affect People?
Although there isn’t an exact known cause, it is thought to be a common disorder that affects as many as 1 in 10 people and women are four times more likely to suffer from SAD than men. Some people with SAD may have mild symptoms, such as a low level of energy and no other symptoms. However, some people may have more severe symptoms, such as severe depression and/or an aggravation of symptoms from other pre-existing mental health disorders. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder may include:
- Excessive sleeping
- Low level of energy with fatigue
- Lack of interest in activities you previously enjoyed
- Feelings of persistent sadness, despite there not being a clear cause
- Unexplained agitation, anxiety and/or mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating and completing familiar tasks
- Changes in appetite
- Weight gain
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
- Thoughts of suicide
Is SAD Preventable?
A change in your mood can have a significant effect on your health as well as your ability to stay sober. It is common for those who are depressed to self-medicate with drugs and/or alcohol, so it is critical for your health to take the steps necessary to help reduce the risk of developing the symptoms of SAD. A few things you can do to stay sober and help prevent seasonal affective disorder include, increase vitamin D intake, get outside help, light therapy, avoid isolation and exercise.
If the symptoms of SAD worsen, it is important that you seek help as soon as possible. The longer the symptoms go untreated, the greater the risk of your depression worsening, which can jeopardize your health.
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