The holidays are over, but winter is still in full force in many parts of the country. Unfortunately, this means that people whom are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) have a few more months until the sun shines and provides them relief. While Florida is usually blessed with warm, sunny weather all year round, even we’ve been hit with cold blasts and snow.
SAD is a mood disorder related to depression and people who have it feel themselves getting down at the same time each year. It typically happens in the winter months, and although doctors don’t know the exact causes, changes in hormones and lack of sunlight are thought to contribute to it.
This form of depression isn’t discussed as often or taken as seriously as other forms of depression. It’s important that people understand this is a very real and debilitating mental disorder. Here are 8 shocking facts about Seasonal Affective Disorder that you might not have known.
A large amount of people in the United States has some form of SAD, ranging from mild to so extreme that it requires specialty treatment and even hospitalization. The number could be even larger, but many people are unaware that the “winter blues” they experience are actually a mental disorder, and thus don’t seek mental health help and receive a proper diagnosis.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is four times more common in women than men. It’s estimated that 60-90% of all people suffering from SAD are female. As with depression in women, the exact reason for this isn’t entirely understood, but it is believed that the unique pressures placed upon women, along with hormonal components and the fact that women are more likely to see a psychiatrist, all contribute to that statistical disparity.
Data shows that Seasonal Affective Disorder is more common the further one lives north or south of the equator. While doctors don’t know what causes SAD, it is believed that the amount of sunlight plays a major factor. Because winter is more severe the further one moves away from the equator, the interruption to activities that help combat depression could also play a role in the increased number of SAD cases.
While most people with SAD are affected during the winter months, there is a rare form of seasonal depression referred to as summer depression. Like winter depression, summer depression is marked by a shift in mood, sleep problems, loss of appetite, weight loss, and agitation.
SAD was only officially recognized as a mental condition in 1984 when Norman E. Rosenthal formally described it. People were aware of SAD before this though. There are many accounts of “winter blues” or other seasonal related mood shifts. As with other mental health disorders, many people may have symptoms connected to Seasonal Affective Disorder during the winter time. However, what distinguishes it from the run-of-the-mill “winter blues” is the severity of the symptoms, and how negatively the condition impacts quality of life.
It’s common for people to dismiss SAD as “winter blues” and trivialize it. While many people who have SAD experience only mild to moderate symptoms, it can be more serious. The most serious form of seasonal depression can lead to suicidal thoughts and tendencies. In some cases, SAD requires psychiatric treatment just like Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). There are also treatments used specifically for SAD, such as employing sun lamps to recreate the biochemical responses triggered by natural sunlight exposure.
Like other mental disorders, seasonal affective disorder seems to run in families. People with SAD usually have at least one close family member that is affected by it as well. There are also links with SAD and other mental disorders. People with SAD usually report at least one close family member with a psychiatric disorder, frequently major depression or substance abuse. This suggest that there is a genetic component to SAD, just as there is for other mood disorders, like depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia.
Most people don’t begin experience SAD until after the age of 20. However, children and teens have been known to suffer from seasonal depression too. The chances of dealing with SAD decrease, as people get older also.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a very real mental disorder that millions of people struggle with every year. Luckily, there are treatments out there to help with it. Don’t write your symptoms away as “seasonal blues.” Contact a psychiatrist and begin getting help today.