If you suffer from depression or any other mental health disorder, you’re not alone and shouldn’t feel like you’re adrift without help in sight. According to the National Alliance of Mental illness, about 20 percent of U.S. adults experience mental illness, and four percent suffer from “serious mental illness.” Like many other kinds of depression, including seasonal affective disorder, mental health disorders affect men, women, and about 17 percent of children age six to 17.
WHAT IS SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER
The experts at Psychology Today say that “Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of recurrent major depressive disorder in which episodes of depression occur during the same season each year. This condition is sometimes called the “winter blues,” because the most common seasonal pattern is for depressive episodes to appear in the fall or winter and remit in the spring.” A more rare form occurs in the summer.
SAD disturbs about 10 million Americans, with the average age of onset occurring between the ages of 18 and 30. A small number of people, about six percent, require hospitalization.
SYMPTOMS OF SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER
Like other kinds of depression, people suffering from SAD may benefit from psychotherapy, light therapy, or the use of medicine like ketamine. Different mental health disorders have various symptoms; here are some commonly associated with SAD:
- Feelings of depression over the duration of every day
- Feeling useless or miserable
- Experiencing low energy
- Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
- Trouble sleeping
- You experience changes in eating habits or weight
- Feeling agitated or sluggish
- You can’t concentrate
- You’re preoccupied with thoughts of suicide or death.
- Hunger for carbohydrates
- You’re socially isolated
- You’re agitated or anxious
- Incidents of aggressive behavior
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS OF SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER?
Seasonal affective disorder may be prevalent when it’s cold, but you could be at risk if you identify with these risk factors:
- You’re female. SAD occurs four times more frequently in women.
- SAD happens more often in people who reside far south or north relative to the equator.
- If you have blood relatives who developed other kinds of depression, you may be more likely to suffer from Seasonal affective disorder.
- If you suffer from bipolar disorder or depression.
- According to the National Institutes of Health, young adults are more at risk. SAD also has been observed in children and teens.
ARE THERE DIFFERENT KINDS OF SAD?
People suffering from a mental health disorder are often diagnosed with more than one kind, sometimes experiencing symptoms of both at the same time. If you have SAD, it’s important to know there are two kinds to be aware of.
- Winter SAD includes normal signs of depression, like loss of energy, concentration troubles, tiredness, increased eating habits, greater desire to be alone, increased need for sleep, and unexpected weight gain.
- Summer SAD is less prevalent, but if you suffer from a mental disorder, you could also experience not wanting or needing to eat often, sleep problems, and unexpected weight loss.
IS SUNSHINE REALLY A CURE?
Florence Nightingale, a pioneering American nurse from the 19th century, was famous for her dedication to patient care and understood the necessity for kindness and cleanliness when treating all illnesses and injuries. She also was a firm believer in the benefits of fresh air and sunshine: “It is the unqualified result of all my experience with the sick, that second only to their need of fresh air is their need of light…And that it is not only light but direct sun-light they want.”
For more than a century, doctors have studied the positives of sunlight, with British Dr. Richard Hobday authoring a book on how architecture-oriented sunlight can reduce symptoms of many illnesses from heart disease to rickets. Some of his suggestions? Design rooms for disinfection and sunlight therapy and `install windows in more than one wall to “let the sun in at different times of the day or year.”
Seeking treatment for SAD or another kind of depression is a personal decision and should only be made after talking to a doctor or specialist. Some reports extol the benefits of medicine like ketamine, but your doctor may recommend more traditional options, like light therapy, clinical trials, or other medicine.
The key point: Mental illness is often treatable, as long as you recognize the symptoms when they happen – and seek immediate medical help afterward.
If you’re feeling depressed, are tired, are easily irritable at the same time every year, and believe these emotions appear to be based on the season of the year, you could be experiencing a form of seasonal affective disorder.