Mental illnesses are still often more misunderstood and underdiagnosed than most other problems we deal with. Depression is a common mental illness that nearly 300 million people in the world struggle with, and over 70% of people coping with this condition daily never get the treatment they need.
Depression can be linked to your environment, biology, and several other factors, and isn’t always a long-lasting problem, but it often is and can lead to severe cases that may result in thoughts of suicide.
Depression can also be tied to something as common as the changing of the seasons, which is referred to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and rather than getting help, millions of people just tough it out because they deal with it so often.
If you or someone you know lives with this problem, you don’t have to just tough it out until things get better. There are some basic strategies you can put in place to fend off the effects of this mental illness and feel better about yourself.
Let’s take a look at what SAD is, its causes and symptoms, and what steps you can take to ease its hold on your life.
Also referred to as seasonal depression, SAD often occurs in the late fall and tends to worsen during the winter months, though it can happen at other times of the year. It’s officially termed a major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns.
Feeling down because of key changes during the fall and winter seasons such as the shortening of days and being indoors more often than other times of the year, isn’t an abnormal event. SAD is more than just a case of winter blues, however, and directly affects how you see things and the decisions you make in your life.
This condition often starts in early adulthood (as early as 18) and is more common in women than men. About five percent of the American population cope with this, while a larger 10-20% deal with a milder version of this seasonal illness.
While the overall reasons for SAD aren’t known, there are common factors that lead to having it, like changes in serotonin or melatonin levels and the upsetting of your circadian rhythm (biological clock) during seasonal changes.
Other factors that raise your risks of this condition include family history, having bipolar disorder or major depression, low levels of vitamin D, and living far north or south of the equator.
Cases of SAD generally begin with mild signs, worsen over time, and include symptoms like listlessness, lack of interest in activities you normally enjoy, fatigue, sluggishness, oversleeping, overeating, weight gain, problems focusing, and feeling hopeless and unworthy.
The signs of SAD during spring and summer may be different, appearing with symptoms such as insomnia, poor appetite, weight loss, irritability, and being more agitated or anxious.
Here are some ways to manage your SAD to reduce its impact on your life:
Healthier choices can reduce your symptoms, so things like increasing the amount of exercise you get and improving your sleep can help.
Once you recognize that your depressive issues are seasonal, it will be easier to know what signs to look for so you can determine what changes you can make or whether to seek help in managing your problem. Self-assessment questionnaires are available to help you know for certain if you're dealing with SAD.
Eating more fruits, vegetables, and healthy proteins can help improve your mood, and increasing the amount of vitamin D in your diet can make a world of difference.
Medical treatments are available if these basic steps aren’t enough such as medications and light therapy, but the important thing to know is seasonal affective disorder is real, millions of people live with it, and there are ways to get your life back.
Make an appointment with our team at Michigan Avenue Primary Care today to get help to improve your mood and your life. Call our office or schedule your visit online anytime.