Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a disorder that affects approximately 25% of the population and is characterized by prolonged depression, present in the winter months in colder geographies, particularly in January and February. While many confuse this disorder with generalized winter blues, the true delineation between disorder and blues is measured by the patient’s ability to manage daily life activities and responsibilities.
Approximately 20% of all substance users carry some kind of mental or mood disorder concurrent with their addiction. Gloomy skies may not make you use drugs or alcohol, but for someone who has an addiction and a co-occurring mood disorder, persistent gray weather could very well be what tips the scales.
So, we recently sat down with Green Mountain Treatment Center’s own Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, Dale McQueeny, to help us better understand Seasonal Affective Disorder, and how to spot the symptoms, identify the causes, and issue remedies. What follows is Dale’s insightful take on S.A.D….
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When SAD Starts
Generally, symptoms of S.A.D. begin in the fall – the late fall or early winter months – and subside in the sunnier months of the spring and summer.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms
Symptoms of S.A.D. are the same as symptoms of depression and can include:
- feeling depressed nearly every day, most of the day
- loss of interest in activities that you once enjoyed
- having low energy
- having problems with sleeping
- experiencing changes in your appetite and weight
- feeling sluggish or agitated
- having difficulty concentrating
- feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
- having thoughts of death or suicide
What Causes SAD?
We don’t really know what causes S.A.D., but we do have a few ideas of things that we’ve identified as potential causes”
- a change in your biological clock or circadian rhythm
- a drop in your serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter in your brain
- gender: S.A.D is diagnosed more often in women than in men
- age: more often in younger adults than in older adults
- family history: there are some factors that can increase your risk and they include family history
- pre-existing mood disorder: if you have major depression or bipolar disorder, you are more likely to experience S.A.D.
- and yes, distance from the equator: living far from the equator can increase your likelihood of S.A.D.
SAD is a Serious, Yet Treatable Condition
S.A.D. should be taken very seriously because it can worsen, just like other types of depression. If not treated, it can make you more prone to social withdrawal, school & work problems, substance abuse, other mental health problems such as anxiety or eating disorders and, again, suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
There is effective treatment for S.A.D., which can include light therapy, anti-depressants, holistic therapies like meditation, and psychotherapy. Any one or a combination of these can effectively help you with your Seasonal Affective Disorder. The key is to seek help.
If you or a loved one is suffering from the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and are experiencing a substance use disorder, we can help.