Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that occurs during certain time periods of the year, typically starting in the fall and winter months when less sunlight is available in many areas of the country and world.
According to WebMD
, about 36 million people suffer from SAD in the winter months, with women reporting more instances of it than men. It typically begins in young adulthood. It rarely occurs in people living within 30 degrees of the equator where sunlight year-round is plentiful.
The cause is neurobiological, WebMD noted, adding that "it is thought that brain areas which regulate mood and operate using the neurotransmitter serotonin may not function properly" during certain seasons. While winter SAD is most common, there is also a summer version of SAD as well.
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Noted WebMD of its causes: "Hormones manufactured in the brain that are affected by sunlight exposure may play a role in the development of SAD and its symptoms of depressed mood, fatigue, carbohydrate cravings, and weight gain. Because foods high in carbohydrates (like chips, pretzels, and cookies) boost serotonin, it is thought that they have a soothing effect on the body and mind."
According to the National Institutes of Health’s MedlinePlus website
, symptoms may include sad or anxious feelings, feelings of hopelessness or guilt, irritability, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, weight changes, and thoughts of suicide.
Treatments for SAD, according to the Mayo Clinic
, include light therapy, antidepressants, and sometimes psychotherapy. With light therapy, a patient would sit near a unit that emits bright light for a time period each day.
"Light therapy is one of the first-line treatments for fall-onset SAD. It generally starts working in a few days to two weeks and causes few side effects. Research on light therapy is limited, but it appears to be effective for most people in relieving SAD symptoms," the Mayo Clinic said.
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Some SAD patients also take medications for depression like Wellbutrin XL, or Aplenzin, among others. Talk therapy is also recommended to help SAD sufferers cope and manage their stress.
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