Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Don't be SAD – Beat the Winter Blues

Now that Autumn is upon us, you’ve no doubt noticed that the days are getting shorter and the nights longer.   Have you also noticed that this season regularly brings on symptoms of depression for you?

If so, there could be a connection;  you may be one of the estimated 20,000 U.S. citizens suffering from SAD -- Seasonal Affective Disorder – many of whom have no idea that what they are experiencing isn’t just sadness but SAD.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder – SAD?


Mayo Clinic defines SAD as a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year, which is why this debilitating affective disorder is labeled “seasonal.”  For most sufferers, Seasonal Affective Disorder strikes during the time of year when the daylight hours are shortest: late Fall and winter, and for some, even into early Spring.

SAD affects more women than men
and can last from late Fall to
early Spring.

The distinguishing characteristic of the SAD disorder is its seasonal pattern: the annual recurrence of the troubling symptoms that may result in a diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

SAD is a widespread problem. Like other forms of depression, many people who are affected by this seasonal disorder do not even realize they have it. According to studies by the University of Virginia, an estimated six percent of the U.S. population is afflicted by seasonal affective disorder. Some research suggests that more people suffer from symptoms of SAD in regions that are further away from the equator. 

Symptoms of an affective seasonal disorder can be mild, moderate, or severe. All symptoms of SAD should be taken seriously and discussed with your doctor. 
  • Mood changes
  • Changes in sleep and/or eating
  • Finding less enjoyment in activities
  • Socializing less
  • Loss of energy
  • Inability to concentrate
If you notice any of these changes, check with your health care professional to see if you have SAD and to rule out any other conditions. 

Who does seasonal affective disorder target?


Seasonal affective disorder can affect people of all types. Your likelihood of getting seasonal affective disorder is greater if you are:
  • More sensitive to variations in light
  • Females are nearly four times more likely to get SAD than males
  • Previously struggled with depression
  • Family history of seasonal affective disorder.


How long does seasonal affective disorder last?


By definition, SAD is seasonal and cyclical. That is, SAD tends to crop up at the same time each year and fade away at the same time. This is the case for everyone with SAD, but duration of the symptoms varies from person to person:
  • For the most unfortunate sufferers, seasonal affective disorder may begin shortly after the days begin to grow shorter in the Fall and persist until the days begin to grow longer in Spring. 
  • For others, the duration may be much shorter; for some, lasting only a couple of weeks.


How can I be sure I have SAD?


The symptoms of SAD are very similar to symptoms of depression. Even if you have all of the common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (such as feelings of hopelessness, trouble concentrating, social isolation, lack of energy, changes in sleeping, appetite irregularities),  it does not necessarily mean that you have SAD. This is why it’s best to get professionally diagnosed. 


Treating SAD 


Seasonal affective disorder is treatable. Your doctor may advise or prescribe any of the following treatments, depending on your individual condition and situation:
affective disorder
Getting more light can help relieve
symptoms of SAD.
  • More light: During the darkest seasons, getting out into the daylight more may be enough to alleviate symptoms.
  • Phototherapy: Also known as Light Therapy, phototherapy exposes you to a regular schedule of “daylight spectrum” lighting: special lights designed to mimic daylight. The light gets absorbed through your retinas. The phototherapy process usually takes several days before symptoms improve. For most people, treatments continue even after the season passes, to be certain symptoms do not return. 
  • Medication: Antidepressant medication is sometimes prescribed.
  • Psychotherapy/counseling: Talking with a trained counselor may provide help to deal with some of the emotional symptoms of SAD.
  • Diet: Some doctors may advise you to reduce your intake of simple carbohydrates in your diet, focusing on complex carbohydrates or lower carbohydrate foods.
If you’ve been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder and your doctor prescribes medication, don’t let financial concerns unnecessarily add to your depression.  The free FamilyWize prescription discount card can help to reduce your pharmacy costs, including medications prescribed to treat SAD.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer


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