Are You Feeling S.A.D. ?

Winter rolls around and it seems like your day to day life has taken a turn for the bleak. You feel sluggish, you're sleeping too much or too little, it’s becoming difficult to do the activities that once gave you enjoyment, and the world looks and feels bleak. But why do you feel like this? You may have S.A.D. Although somewhat unfortunately named, S.A.D. is a real mental disorder that impacts around 5% of the U.S. population in a give year. Commonly passed off as the“winter blue”, S.A.D. can be very dangerous and detrimental to a population and a person. There can be very serious symptoms and issues that come with these “winter blues” indicators.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that is related to the change of seasons. Those impacted tend to feel hopeless, fatigued, unenergized, and most notably- feeling depressed. This disorder is mostly prevalent in women, so much so that 4 in 5 cases of S.A.D. are of  women. Although the disorder is mostly associated with the dreary winter season, people may also experience S.A.D. during the summer - although this account is less documented.

Even though the symptoms can be easy to tell, the causes of S.A.D. are still unknown. There seems to be a correlation between lower levels of sunlight and the amount of serotonin that a person’s neurotransmitters makes. Lower levels of serotonin have been found in people who were diagnosed with depression and related illnesses. It could also be that the Sun’s rising and setting disturbs a person's circadian rhythm which has been linked to depressive thoughts. Along the same train of thought, when the Sun is out for fewer hours in the day, more melatonin can be produced. Melatonin is the hormone responsible for sleeping, with fewer hours of sunlight, more melatonin is produced which may unsync a person's biological clock. The correlation between the amount of hours the Sun is out is also directly related to one's geographic location, meaning that those who live farther away from the equator are at a higher risk of developing S.A.D.

Scientists may not know the exact cause behind S.A.D. but there are treatments that have been found to help those with the ailment. The most common treatment is Phototherapy- in other terms, it means that one uses special lights or lamps to decrease the amount of melatonin that the body produces. This has been found to work for many people who are impacted by the disease and the method  has been used since the 1980s. Similarly, medication that blocks the production of serotonin has been found to have positive impacts as well. However, this can come with side effects.

Seasonal Affective Disorder can be incredibly dangerous and it can have serious implications on one's  day-to-day life. Although it isn’t as widely known as other mental illnesses, it is still very serious and it is important to reach out to medical professionals if you believe you suffer from S.A.D. It is also important to try and get as much sunlight as possible especially in the winter months when the Sun is out for fewer hours and other illnesses may be causing trouble. Simply spending more time outside, exercising, taking supplemental vitamins, and even increasing the amount of lights you have in your home can help reduce your risk of S.A.D.

References:

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/sad

Carlos Martinez-Mejia