Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) refers to the significant mood and behavioral change that characterize the reaction of an individual to changing seasons. While people normally experience a better mood for eating or sleeping during cold seasons, the reactions of people with SAD are rather serious especially during winter and fall. For people with this condition, the unusual feelings of depression and lethargy are triggered by the short days and long nights that are particular to seasons fall and winter.
These unusual feelings may appear gradually or appear all at once (American Psychiatric Association, 2006) The seriousness of this condition results to impairment of the individual’s life (Mayo Clinic, 2008). Symptoms As the name implies, this condition may occur, disappear and recur as seasons change each year. The usual onset of symptoms occur during cold parts of the year such as during late fall or early winter and disappears as spring and summer begin. For some, the pattern is the opposite with the onset during spring or summer (MayoClinic, 2008).
Symptoms of depression may be mild but can become sever if left untreated (American Psychiatric Association, 2006). People with SAD experience different symptoms depending on its onset. For people with winter-onset SAD, symptoms include depression, lethargy, anxiety, social withdrawal, oversleeping, lack of interest, attention-deficit, and weight-gain due to cravings for foods high in carbohydrates (Nelson, et. al. , 2002) Meanwhile, people with summer-onset SAD experience symptoms including insomnia, agitation, poor appetite, agitation, anxiety, irritability and increased sex drive (Nelson, et. l. , 2002)).
Another type of SAD is the Reverse SAD. In this type, the individual does not experience depression and anxiety. On the other hand, he or she experiences symptoms of mania or elevated mood, hyperactivity and enthusiasm (Nelson, et. al. 2002). It is not necessary that people with SAD experience all symptoms. In addition, symptoms may even be opposite what is expected of its type (American Psychiatric Association, 2006). Causes The mechanism underlying SAD is not yet known. Studies are yet to be made in order to determine the specific cause of this disorder.
However, like any disorder involving mental conditions, genetics, age (Lam, 1998; MayoClinic, 2008) and the chemical imbalance in the brain as a result of reduced daylight hours (American Psychiatric Association, 2006) are considered as possible factors that may play a role in the development of SAD. Among those thought to cause SAD include: the individual’s circadian rhythm, the concentration of melatonin, and the concentration of serotonin (MayoClinic, 2008). The circadian rhythm refers to the body’s mechanism for regulating the body’s internal clock. Any disruption of this mechanism may result to depression.
The reduced amount of sunlight during the cold season is suspected to disrupt some people’s circadian rhythm. Melatonin is also tied to depression. It is a sleep-related hormone which is produced in higher rated in the dark (American Psychiatric Association, 2006). Naturally, it is produced by the body in high amounts during winter (American Psychiatric Association, 2006). On the other hand, serotonin is responsible for a person’s positive mood. It is said that the drop in serotonin that happens as a result of reduced sunlight can also lead to depression (Lam, 1998).
Risk Factors Seasonal Affective Disorder is uncommon for people below 20 years of age (MayoClinic, 2008). Some sources say that SAD happen to people between ages 15 and 55 with decreasing risk of getting SAD for the first time with age (Seasonal Affective Disorder, 2006). This condition is also more commonly associated to women. As nature’s way of compensation, men usually have more severe symptoms compared to women (Nelson, et. al. , 2002). Like the causes, data are still limited as to who or what conditions may predispose a person towards the development of SAD.
There are some evidence which shows that location and family history may play a role in the development of SAD. In particular, people who live in places that are far from the equator and people who have a family member with SAD are more likely to develop this condition compared to those who live near the equator and those without any history of the condition (MayoClinic, 2008). Diagnosis The symptoms of SAD are very common. As such, it may be difficult to determine whether a person is already suffering from the condition or is merely experiencing the natural moods associated to some seasons (Seasonal Affective Disorder, 2006).
As a matter of fact, it is yet to be recognized by professionals as a disorder which is distinct from depression or bipolar disorder (MayoClinic, 2008). Just as with any other condition, the patient is asked by the professional about certain factors that could have otherwise caused the symptoms. Still, despite a thorough evaluation, ease in diagnosis cannot be ensured. This is because symptoms of SAD are mostly the same with other types of depression or mental conditions (Seasonal Affective Disorder, 2006).
The diagnosis of SAD is highly dependent on the frequency of symptoms, the time of the year such symptoms occurs, the seasonality of the symptoms, and the existence or non-existence of other explanations for the symptoms (MayoClinic, 2008). Complications Seasonal Affective Disorder is a serious condition that must be treated at the earliest possible time in order to avoid possible complications. If left untreated, an individual with SAD may become socially withdrawn, harbor suicidal thoughts, take illegal substances and experience work and school problems (Nelson, et. al. 2002; MayoClinic, 2008).
Treatment Managing SAD can be done effectively by taking measures to control its known causes. The methods most commonly used are: light therapy, Psychotherapy and intake of medications (Lam, 1998). Light therapy is as simple as exposing the patient to sunlight or to any simulation of it (Lam, 1998). This is based on the premise that lack of sun exposure causes the depressive mood associated with SAD. In light therapy, the individuals’ exposure to the light is said to cause certain biochemical changes in the brain to produce improvement in the patient’s mood (Lam, 1998).
But due to lack of evidence regarding its effectiveness, it has not yet been approved by the FDA (MayoClinic, 2008). Behavioral therapy, allows the identification and modification of thoughts and behaviors that may be aggravating the person’s condition (American Psychiatric Association, 2006). Antidepressants and other psychiatric medications are used to treat SAD. For people with history of SAD, bupriopion is given to prevent the condition. Pzroxetine, sertraline, fluoxetine and venlaflaxine are other common medications used to treat SAD (MayoClinic, 2008).