Daylight saving time is coming fast. If you are like many, the thought of an extra hour of sleep seems glorious. Plus, the fall brings pretty colors, fun holidays, crisp air, and pumpkin spice lattes. For others, fall brings with it feelings of depression—seasonal depression.
This type of depression is called seasonal affective disorder or SAD – a type of depression that happens seasonally. Its symptoms usually last through fall and winter, about four to five months each year. For some individuals, SAD occurs in summer. However, this is not common.
SAD is thought to be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. This imbalance happens when the days shorten and there is less daylight available. Being exposed to less daylight can throw off someone’s biological clock. Because SAD is linked to lack of sunlight, it is more common in areas that are farther from the equator. It is also more common in people with a family history of mood disorders.
Symptoms of SAD are like symptoms of depression. People may feel sad, overly tired, and like they do not have energy. They might have changes in their appetite, weight, and sleep. They may feel agitated, restless, guilty or worthless. Concentrating might be difficult. They may isolate themselves from other people and no longer be interested in things they used to enjoy. They may also have thoughts of suicide or of dying.
If you are experiencing mild symptoms of SAD, there are things you can do to cope. They include:
- Going outside and getting exposed to natural light
- Exercising regularly
- Keeping a healthy diet
- Regularly seeing family and friends
- Having hobbies that you do regularly
- Taking a Vitamin D supplement (people get Vitamin D from sunlight)
- Cutting down use of alcohol or drugs, which might make SAD symptoms worse
- Maintaining a routine around bedtime for better rest
For some people, these coping strategies may not be enough. If you are experiencing severe symptoms of SAD, you might consider:
- Contacting your doctor (primary care provider) to discuss your symptoms and ask for help managing the,
- Working with a doctor to see if there is medication that might help
- Working with a doctor to see if light therapy might help
- Discussing seeking therapy to learn how to best cope with SAD.
For more information about SAD, see:
- National Institute of Mental Health
- American Psychiatric Association
- Sherri Melrose – Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches
- David Avery – Seasonal Affective Disorder: Treatment
About the Author: Jaymes Fairfax-Columbo, JD, Ph.D. is a clinical-forensic psychologist. He works with the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) serving individuals who have behavioral health issues and are involved in the criminal justice system.