That blah feeling many of us have during the fall and winter months is often attributed to the switch to standard time and the earlier darkness that befalls us. Coupled with the stress of the holiday season and the end of the calendar year, and lo and behold! There may very well be a medical culprit behind your depressed state during what is often described as the most wonderful time of the year.
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that usually occurs in the fall and winter. The symptoms are similar to other types of depression—hopelessness, less energy, loss of interest in work or other activities, sluggish movements, social withdrawal, unhappiness and irritability. There are slight differences, though. With SAD, increased appetite and sleep are more common; the opposite is true with other forms of depression.
But SAD can become long-term depression. Suicidal thoughts are also a possibility. If you think you may have this disorder, see your health care provider, who will ask about your history of symptoms and may perform blood tests to rule out disorders with similar symptoms to SAD.
“Treatment is the same as with other types of depression,” says Nicole Nicome, M.D., of Atlanta, “with the exception of light therapy. Antidepressant medication can be effective, as well as talk therapy, exercise, getting enough sleep and maintaining a healthy diet.” Light therapy is a special treatment for SAD that uses a 10,000 lux light that mimics the sun. Most practitioners instruct patients to sit in front of the light for 30 minutes a day to imitate the sun’s light. If light therapy is going to work, it usually does so in three to four weeks.
As with any depressive disorder, if your thoughts turn to hurting yourself or anyone else, get help immediately.
—Tamar Leak Suber