If you feel like you always have a bad case of the "winter blues" during the winter, then it is important for you to learn about seasonal affective disorder, also called seasonal depression. This mental health disorder occurs during the winter months when days are much shorter than they are during the spring and summer. 


About 500,000 people in the United States suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which can strike people of all ages and genders. However, as many as an estimated three-quarters of all seasonal depression sufferers are women. 


While there is no one proven cause of seasonal depression, mental health professionals believe that the shorter days and longer nights that occur during the winter may be to blame. The shorter daylight hours may decrease the level of serotonin in the brain and/or trigger an overproduction of the hormone melatonin. Both factors can lead to feelings of depression. 


Read on to learn the signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder along with treatment options. 


SAD Signs and Symptoms

While seasonal affective disorder does follow a seasonal pattern that typical major depression does not, both types of depression share many of the same symptoms: 

  • A lack of interest in activities you typically enjoy
  • Oversleeping (hypersomnia) and/or insomnia
  • A feeling of hopelessness
  • Lethargy, or lack of energy
  • Social withdrawal

These symptoms can range from mild to severe. Most psychologists consider these symptoms signs of a major depressive episode when they last at least two weeks. 


Seasonal Depression Treatment Options

Thankfully, there are many seasonal depression treatment options. The right treatment for you will depend on just how severe your depression is and whether you are having thoughts of suicide, self-harm, or harming others. If you are considering harming yourself or others, then you should contact a mental health facility that offers inpatient psychiatric treatment immediately. 

However, if your symptoms are less severe, then outpatient psychiatric treatment may be able to help alleviate your symptoms very successfully. Your mental healthcare provider may suggest the following treatments. 


Light Therapy

An estimated 60 to 80 percent of seasonal depression sufferers see their symptoms improve with the use of light therapy. Light therapy devices are not fitted with traditional light bulbs, but instead contain full-spectrum bulbs that produce wavelengths of light very similar to those the sun emits. 

For the best results, psychologists typically recommend light therapy devices that are about 10,000 LUX and suggest that patients sit front of it for about 60 to 90 minutes each day, preferably in the morning. 


Outpatient Therapy

There are many types of psychotherapy that treat the symptoms of all types of depression very successfully. However, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a specific type of therapy that has been proven to be especially useful for treating SAD. A study performed by psychologists at the University of Vermont showed that only 27 percent of SAD sufferers in the study group who obtained CBT for two winters in a row experienced a return of their symptoms the second winter. 


During cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, your psychologist will help you identify negative thought patterns that trigger your depressive symptoms and replace them with more positive ones. They will also help you identify and correct behaviors that the negative thoughts cause that further exasperate your depression. 


Medications

While not everyone who suffers from seasonal depression needs to take a medication to relieve their symptoms, some people do benefit from taking one. While a psychiatrist will choose a medication that they think will benefit you most, selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIS) are the most commonly prescribed medications for seasonal depression. These medications are believed to elevate serotonin levels in the brain, which can help alleviate depressive symptoms in some people. 


If your severe case of the "winter blues" is interfering with your life or even causing you to feel suicidal, then realize that you may actually be suffering from seasonal depression. Contact Levi Hospital to seek the psychological help you need now.