Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression associated with the changing seasons. Most commonly, SAR begins in late autumn and continues into the winter months. In rare cases, symptoms of mood disorder appear in the spring or early summer. According to experts, at least 16.2% of the population in Russia suffers from seasonal depression.
What Causes the “Autumn Blues”
The exact causes of SAD are unknown, but there are several factors that can trigger it:
Circadian rhythm. With the onset of cold weather, daylight hours are shortened, and a lack of sun can disrupt the work of the biological clock.
Serotonin levels. Sun deficiency can also reduce levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that, among other things, promotes positive emotions.
Melatonin levels. Changing seasons can disrupt the balance of melatonin, a hormone that is critical for sleep quality and mood.
Depression and bipolar disorder. Yes, you may have a multi-year depression that has long been in the background, but it gets worse during the winter months. In addition, in people with bipolar disorder, the depressive phase can also occur during the cold and dark months.
Climate. For example, cloudy Petersburg has a reputation as a depressed city for a reason – the farther we live from the equator and receive less heat and sun, the higher the likelihood of developing SAR.
Fun fact: SAD is diagnosed more often in women than in men. Young people are more susceptible to this disorder than older people.
How do you know if you have seasonal affective disorder?
In general, SAD has the same symptoms as “classic” depression with the exception of one symptom: seasonality. If in the sunny months of the year you feel good, and with the onset of the cold and dark season (or vice versa, with the first drop of spring) your life becomes unbearable, this is the most important “alarm bell”.
Here’s what people with seasonal depression face:
- feelings of depression and melancholy;
- apathy, lethargy, lack of energy;
- loss of interest in activities that have always been pleasing;
- sleep disorders;
- changes in appetite or weight;
- difficulty concentrating;
- a constant feeling of guilt, hopelessness and self-worthlessness;
- thoughts of death and suicide.
These are the most common symptoms of SAD, but should also be alerted to any negative changes and the feeling of “not being the same”.
When should you see a doctor?
According to psychotherapist Oksana Sobina, it is worth contacting a specialist if the symptoms of depression last for a long time – from a month or more. Including when nothing hurts, but you want to cry for any reason and are covered with thoughts “how tired of everything” and “when it’s all over”. A person may not be well aware that something is wrong with him, but a qualified doctor will figure out what is happening to you.
You need to contact a psychiatrist or a psychotherapist, that is, with a medical education and permission to prescribe prescription drugs. You can start by visiting a competent therapist, who will determine which specialist is best to refer to.
“Very often people think that they need to see a doctor only with unbearable pain, obvious misfortune or illness. Therefore, they prefer to cope with malaise or psychological discomfort on their own, without medical assistance. However, we go to the dentist for a preventive examination at least once a year and we go even with a little discomfort, without waiting for pain. Believe me, you can and should contact a psychiatrist if something bothers you: bad sleep, lost appetite, everything is annoying and not happy. “
How to Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder
Glossy magazines offer to cope with the autumn blues with walks with photo shoots, cats and your favorite movies. If you really have SAD, and not a bad mood for the occasion, all this can only be a pleasant addition to treatment, nothing more. Only a doctor can prescribe treatment after taking your detailed history and determining the nature and severity of the symptoms. In severe cases, a combination of different treatments may be required.
Light therapy or light therapy
In foreign recommendations, this method of treatment is the first-line therapy for seasonal affective disorder, although the data on its effectiveness are still contradictory. Everything is quite simple: the patient is prescribed daily exposure to sunlight, sometimes in a hospital. Typically, this treatment is used for mild to moderate SAD and aims to reduce symptoms.
But there is an important nuance: in Russia, this method of physiotherapy is practically not used for outpatient treatment, and even in private clinics, a light therapy room is a rarity, and the cost of the procedure will unpleasantly surprise you. According to Oksana Sobina, it’s all about profitability: equipping such an office is very expensive.
But there is another option: purchase a lamp that simulates sunlight. This gadget can be placed on your desktop, and even if it is dark and cold outside the window, the illusion of a sunny day will be created for your brain. There are even special alarms that light up the room with simulated sunlight as you wake up. The cost and quality of such lamps depends on the manufacturer, but they are a good investment in your health.
If you have severe seasonal affective disorder, your doctor may recommend antidepressants. In such cases, it is recommended to start taking the drug before the onset of winter before the onset of symptoms and end the treatment in the spring.
For the treatment of SAR, antidepressants from the group of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are usually used. They increase serotonin levels, which can help normalize mood.
If you have been asked to take antidepressants, there are several important things to consider:
- These medications are cumulative and may take 4-6 weeks for best results.
- some antidepressants have serious side effects, including interactions with other drugs, and you should definitely inform your doctor about your medical conditions and indications;
- antidepressants should never be stopped abruptly, otherwise you will have withdrawal syndrome – a very unpleasant and sometimes life-threatening condition. The drug is canceled by a gradual decrease in dosage under the supervision of a physician;
- these medications are not compatible with alcohol, so mulled wine and other alcohol-containing drinks will have to be temporarily abandoned to improve mood.
Never self-medicate with antidepressants, even if they helped your friend and he has one or two packs left. These drugs are sold by prescription for a reason – only a doctor can pick it up. If you “prescribe” such a medicine yourself, the consequences can be depressing, up to emergency hospitalization…
Walking, sports, proper nutrition
All of these components of a healthy lifestyle will not rid you of the “autumn blues”, but will help reduce the symptoms and health damage from lying in front of the TV for many hours.
To raise the tone, experts advise:
get as much natural sunlight as possible, so even a short walk at lunchtime will be beneficial;
if possible, organize your workplace by the window;
devote more time to physical exercise, especially in daylight in the air;
balance your diet, eat more fruits and vegetables.