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What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Cristin Lesher, LPCC, Clinical Lead, Mending Point Behavioral Health
October 31, 2023

The winter blues. Many of us have heard of it and some of us might experience it. That feeling of being down can, for some, be overwhelming. The hope and expectation of the holiday season is followed by colder and darker days that lead to feelings of sadness or not quite feeling like yourself. For some, these mood changes can be more serious and can affect how a person thinks or feels. This is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What are symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Some symptoms of SAD can include the following: a persistent low mood, irritability, feeling lethargic, or difficulty concentrating. These symptoms often interfere with daily functioning and could linger for several months.

What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Scientists and experts do not fully understand what causes SAD. Some think the lack of sunlight, leading to a Vitamin D deficiency, may trigger it. Other theories suggest that brain chemical imbalance or a melatonin boost may trigger SAD.

How is Seasonal Affective Disorder diagnosed?

If you think that you may be experiencing the symptoms of SAD, a mental health professional can diagnose the disorder. The mental health professional will ask about your mood, lifestyle, sleeping patterns, seasonal changes in thoughts and behaviors, etc

How is Seasonal Affective Disorder treated?

Like most depressive disorders, there are treatments to help decrease the symptoms one is experiencing. One treatment is light therapy, and it has been a mainstay for the treatment of SAD since the 1980s. Light therapy aims to expose people with SAD to a bright light every day to make up for the diminished natural sunshine in the darker months.

Another treatment for SAD is talk therapy, specifically Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is a form of therapy that aims to shift unhelpful ways of thinking. There is also a variety of antidepressant medications that can treat SAD.

You can also learn ways to manage symptoms. Eating well balanced meals, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly are ways to care of yourself and can decrease symptoms.  

Fortunately, there is treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder. You should talk to your healthcare provider or mental health professional if you are experiencing symptoms. Providers are there to help.

Mending Point Behavioral Health Services is a Community-Based Service of Kentucky United Methodist Children's Homes. Based in Nicholasville, Mending Point provides counseling and case management for children and families in Jessamine and Fayette counties. Visit kyumh.org/mendingpoint to learn more or make a referral.

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