By: Sydnee Petruzzi
December is Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, awareness month. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a depression related to the change in seasons. This disorder can be very harmful if left untreated.
Signs and symptoms of SAD start out mild and progressively get more severe as they go left untreated. People who experience SAD will be more tired and less likely to participate in activities they used to find joy in, and even though patients with SAD are tired they will sleep a lot, they still feel tired and sluggish. Patients with SAD will experience sadness or depression most of the day, every day. They tend to overeat and gain weight, while feeling hopeless or guilty. They will have a challenging time focusing or concentrating on anything. The patients may even have suicidal thoughts or tendencies.
This depression is more commonly known to happen in the fall and winter months, and rarely happens in the spring and summer months. It is believed to be caused by the reduced amount of sunlight. The reduced sunlight will cause a disruption of the body’s internal clock, which will lead to feelings of depression. Also, a neurotransmitter called serotonin may drop which will affect the patient’s mood, increasing the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Melatonin, a hormone that controls your sleep cycle, may get disrupted when the season changes and will affect the patient’s sleep cycle causing them to be more tired.
SAD has many risk factors. This disorder is most diagnosed in young adults and woman and there is an increased risk if patients are already diagnosed with a mental health disorder like depression or bipolar disorder. Studies also showed that people with SAD are located farther away from the equator. SAD can be caused by low levels of vitamin D because with the reduced amount of sunlight, patients will not produce as much vitamin D. Vitamin D is known to increase serotonin activity in the brain. Family history can also be a reason a person might get diagnosed with SAD.
If SAD is left untreated, complications may arise. For example, the patients may begin experiencing social withdrawal, which could lead to feelings of loneliness because of them being unwilling to form personal connections with other people. They could experience work or school problems if they are unable to concentrate. They could develop other mental health disorders, like an eating disorder or anxiety. People with SAD may also develop a substance abuse problem.
When asked, two students were able to describe seasonal affective disorder. Noxx Lorigan described it as, “Getting really sad when the weather changes.” Noah Wysocki described it as, “Sadness when the seasons change.”
While there is no prevention for SAD, the symptoms can be treated and managed. Treatments may consist of seeing a therapist or taking medication. If symptoms remain or worsen, after treatment, a physician should be seen as soon as possible.