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Should I Seek Treatment for My Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), officially classified as major depressive disorder (MDD) with seasonal patterns, causes people to experience mood and motivation changes for two to four months in the year. According to the National Library of Medicine, 0.5% to 3% of all people, 10% to 25% of people with MDD, and 25% of people with bipolar disorder (BD) experience SAD. The amount increases when including subsyndromal seasonal affective disorder (SSAD), a.k.a. the winter or summer blues. This makes seasonal depression a significant comorbidity. To better understand the diagnosis, let’s examine the symptoms and treatment options.

Symptoms of SAD

Much like other forms of depression, the severity of SAD can range from mild to severe. Additionally, episodes usually start between the ages of 18 and 30. These episodes include the following general symptoms:

  • Feeling sad or down most of the day every day
  • Losing interest or motivation in activities
  • Changes in eating patterns, appetite, or weight
  • Feeling irritated or agitated
  • Exhaustion and low energy levels
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Partaking in self-degradation
  • Thoughts of death and/or suicidal ideation

When looking at fall/winter SAD, these specific symptoms present:

  • Hypersomnia
  • Overeating
  • Craving carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Social withdrawal

For spring/summer SAD, individuals may experience these symptoms:

  • Insomnia
  • Low appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Increased restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Anger outbursts

You do not need to experience all of these symptoms at once for a diagnosis. Additionally, you don’t need to feel depressive symptoms for the whole of both seasons. You ultimately only need five diagnostic criteria that occur in the same months of the year each year.

Treatment Options for SAD

When you experience seasonal depression, you should consider many treatment options. Some treatments can occur on your own; other treatments must go through a medical professional.

At-Home Treatment

When treating SAD on your own, you have two primary treatment options. First, you can take vitamin D supplements or increase your vitamin D-rich foods. Generally, it’s a good idea to consult your primary care doctor about any supplements you may want to take. You can still make this change on your own, though.

Secondly, you can use a light therapy box. With light therapy, you sit in front of a light therapy box for 30 to 60 minutes every day. A 2012 study published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease showed that patients with SAD experienced a moderate improvement in depression ratings after a single hour-long session of light therapy, with a significant improvement after two sessions. If your seasonal depression is persistent, you might consider purchasing a light therapy box to use in your home.

Medical Treatment

If you experience SAD, you can also use two major medical interventions. The most effective medical intervention is individual psychotherapy. Typically, practitioners use the cognitive-behavioral therapy model for SAD (CBT-SAD). During sessions, you will learn how to identify and regulate your emotions and thoughts. You’ll also learn behavioral activation techniques. Besides this, a doctor can prescribe you antidepressants. You may start antidepressants around the same time each year, continuing them through the affected months.

Many people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) downplay the severity of their symptoms because they don’t occur year-round. In reality, SAD can impair a person severely for multiple months out of the year. If you experience SAD, it’s important that you understand how you can help your symptoms. At The Guest House, we offer our patients individual and group therapy to help with their mental illnesses. We also offer experiential therapies that provide behavioral activation relief. When you need help, call (855) 483-7800.