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Recognizing Seasonal Affective Disorder

About The Author

Corey Carr, MD

Board-Certified Psychiatrist

Wheaton Franciscan Behavioral Health, part of Ascension

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It’s not uncommon to suffer a case of the winter blues. Dark days and cold temps make it easy to feel sad or gloomy. But when these feelings linger over the weeks and months, during the same time every year, it’s time to consider if something more serious is going on. For some people, a change in the seasons brings on a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a subset of major depression. It affects 1 to 3% of the general population and 15% of people diagnosed with major depression. The cause of the condition is likely related to decreased light exposure. Experts believe lack of light can cause disruption to circadian rhythm and may also affect your serotonin levels, and, in turn, your mood.

There are a few factors that may increase your risk for SAD:

  • Female gender
  • Living farther from the equator
  • Family history
  • Being between the ages of 15 and 55

Symptoms of the condition are similar to those of depression – but they tend to only be present during the fall and winter seasons. However, there is also a subset of SAD that causes symptoms during the summer months.

  • Drop in mood, negative thinking and hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in regular activities
  • Weight gain
  • Craving carbohydrates
  • Fatigue

Common treatments include light therapy, antidepressants and therapy. Regular exercise can also help alleviate symptoms, especially when done outside in sunlight.

If you’re experiencing symptoms that cause a decrease in daily function, it’s time to talk to a professional, such as a primary care physician. He or she can help you determine next steps and refer you to a specialist, if needed.

To find a primary care physician near you, reach out to your health insurance provider.

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