Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder characterized by depression during the fall and winter months of the year, namely from about September through March.
While some people may notice that they tend to be a bit less happy or more fatigued during the months of the year during which there is less sunlight and warmth, those suffering from SAD experience far more drastic symptoms, including:
- feelings of hopelessness
- severe fatigue.
SAD patients will notice that their daily lives are seriously affected. For example, someone experiencing SAD is likely to uncharacteristically stay shut in at home, overeat and oversleep during certain months of the year.
Types of SAD
Keep in mind, however, that SAD is a complex condition that can be characterized by more than just “winter depression,” as some call it. In fact, people affected by SAD may experience:
Rather than get severely depressed and aloof during winter months, those who suffer from reverse SAD experience manic episodes during which they are frenzied, overly excited, irritable and/or irrational.
While those with reverse SAD still suffer from anxiety, they also typically experience increased social activity.
Also referred to as Spring/Summer SAD, summer depression describes a type of seasonal affective disorder in which a person experiences the typical symptoms of SAD during the warmer months of the year, namely from March through August.
Unlike winter SAD patients, however, those experiencing summer depression usually have heightened sex drives and poor appetites.
SAD Causes and Risk Factors
Although the precise causes of SAD remain unknown, medical experts have conducted a series of studies to unravel the risk factors that dispose people to developing SAD.
For example, while studies have highlighted the fact that women are more likely to suffer from SAD, these studies have also pointed out that men typically experience more intense symptoms when they do develop SAD.
Other factors that can put people at risk for developing SAD include:
Those with a family history of SAD are more likely to develop SAD themselves. However, researchers are still debating whether or not this mood disorder has genetic causes.
Some studies have found that people who live further away from the equator are more likely to suffer from SAD. Although researchers are still studying the exact reasons behind this connection, some have speculated that the decrease in sunlight, along with the extremely low temperatures associated with these locations is responsible for the higher rates of SAD patients.
How to Prevent SAD
Understanding the causes of different types of seasonal affective disorder, as well as the associated risk factors, is the key to learning how to prevent them. However, because researchers are still investigating the precise causes of SAD, medical experts haven’t yet identified effective ways of entirely preventing this disorder from arising.
Instead, psychiatrists emphasize the need for early treatment to help patients prevent current symptoms from worsening. Some experts recommend that SAD patients make some lifestyle adjustments, including:
- exercising more often
- increasing how much light your home has
- practicing relaxation and stress management techniques
- spending more time outside
- visiting sunnier, warmer climates.
By diagnosing SAD in its early stages, patients can learn how to manage and/or minimize their symptoms to prevent SAD from seriously disrupt their lives.