More Serious Than the Winter Blues, SAD is a Form of Depression

As fall turns into winter, do you find yourself feeling more fatigued, less energetic, and more depressed than you are throughout the rest of the year? Do you find it difficult to do even the simplest tasks, and you have no energy or motivation to do much of anything at all? This could be a sign of something more serious than the Winter Blues. You may be suffering from a form of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. While it is considered normal to feel somewhat lethargic and unmotivated during the darker and colder winter months, sufferers of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) are really experiencing a type of depression which left untreated, could result in serious consequences. If you think you or someone you know might have this disorder, here's information to help you decide if it's serious and should be checked by health care professionals. This article gives you the basic signs and symptoms of SAD, where to go for help and diagnosis, treatments for SAD, and how to live with this ailment.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder generally appear and disappear at about the same time every year. Most sufferers of this malady have these symptoms as winter comes on, and are relieved of them with the onset of spring and summer. For some, the opposite is true: they are more depressed during the spring and summer months than they are during the fall and winter months. Here's what to look for:

Fall and Winter SAD
Loss of energy
Social anxiety
Loss of interest in activities that previously interested you
Weight gain
Difficulty concentrating and processing information

Spring and Summer SAD
Irritability and agitation
Weight loss
Poor appetite

In rare cases, people with Seasonal Affective Disorder will have reverse symptoms. Instead of symptoms on the depression spectrum their symptoms will be in the form of mania, such as a persistant elevated mood, hyperactivity, increased social activity, and over-exuberance out of proportion to the situation.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Seasonal Affective Disorder isn't recognized as a separate form of depression, but rather a subtype of depression or bipolar disorder. Because it comes and goes with the changing of the seasons, it can be difficult to diagnos. Mental health care providers will perform a thorough physchological evaluation. They will ask many questions about your mood, changing thoughts and behaviors with changing seasons, lifestyle and social situation, eating and sleeping patterns. You may also undergo a thorough physical exam to rule out other causes for your symptoms. SAD symptoms can mimic other types of depression, so a diagnosis may still be difficult to arrive at, but generally speaking, a diagnosis of SAD will depend on the following criteria:

these symptoms and depression have occured for at least two consecutive years
the periods of depression are replaced by non-depression periods
no other explanations for these types of behavior

In milder cases, you may be able to gain relief from the symptoms of SAD by going outdoors (weather permitting of course) or sitting near windows or bright light. For more severe cases, treatment includes light therapy, medication, and/or psychotherapy. Light therapy hasn't been officially approved as a treatment, but is believed to cause a biochemical change in your brain that lifts your mood. With light therapy, you sit a few feet away from a special light box. There are very few side affects from this treatment. If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may prescribe medication to help control them. The FDA has approved Wellbutrin XL for the treatment of SAD. Other medications used include Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Sarafem and Effexor. Psychotherapy can also play an important roll in treatment of SAD. It can help you change negative thoughts and behaviors and learn more healthy ways to cope with SAD.

Living With SAD

Here are a few ideas to help you live with this disorder. Most are easy and inexpensive to implement. Taking a trip to a sunny locale will be more expensive, but certainly more fun:

Follow your doctor's orders for medication, therapy and other treatments
Make your home lighter by opening curtains and blinds, trimming trees that block the light
Get outdoors as often as possible, especially when you have a sunny day.
Get regular exercise
Eat healthy foods, get plenty of rest, avoid alcohol and recreational drugs.
Learn how to manage stress and to avoid it if possible
If possible, plan your vacation for winter time and visit sunny locations.

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