Seasonal Affective Disorder: what it is and how to help

Evan Culter, Staff Reporter

With the winter season coming in full force, many people might tend to feel down about it. However, there are some people who have noticeable changes in behavior with the changes of the season. This is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.  

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, or the NIMH, SAD is not considered a separate disorder, but a type of depression characterized by a seasonal pattern, with symptoms that can last from four to five months. Symptoms can be less severe than others but they do have similar trends with the changing of the season. Symptoms can vary from season to season, so this article will focus specifically on seasonal depression during winter.

NIMH states that some symptoms for SAD in general are changes in sleeping schedule and appetite, low energy, feeling worthless, difficulty in concentrating, and thoughts of suicide. Common symptoms of SAD that occur during winter are oversleeping, overeating, and social withdrawal. 

Individuals who suffer from SAD might not even know they have it, but there are patterns of individuals who have been diagnosed with SAD. One of the patterns is that it is more common for someone living in colder climates to be diagnosed. Someone who lives in Alaska will have a higher chance of being diagnosed than an individual who lives in Florida, according to the NIMH.  People who have been diagnosed with SAD tend to also have something else, such as a mental disorder. 

“What I am seeing is more anxiety,” BAHS nurse Alexandra O’Brien said when asked about if she has seen SAD during the winter season. “It is difficult to tease out symptoms of SAD (seasonal affective disorder) from seasonal illness (fatigue, loss of appetite, etc.).” 

SAD can be treated in multiple ways. According to the NIMH, light therapy, psychotherapy, antidepressants, and Vitamin D can all help with SAD. Light therapy is the exposure of sunlight that helps with seasonal affective disorder. Psychotherapy is talking to a psychiatrist for help with mental health. Vitamin D is recommended because a potential cause for SAD is a deficiency in Vitamin D. Vitamin D is found in seafood, egg yolks, and sunlight, which can be found through light therapy. 

“Anyone who feels reduced enjoyment in things that are usually a source of fun/pleasure as well as fatigue, irritation, sadness should contact their doctor for help,” Mrs. O’Brien said. 

More advice that is given to individuals with SAD is to contact friends. According to the NIMH, it is also recommended to bring a friend to a health care provider because they can help with taking notes and just being there. 

“The main thing is to maintain communication and validate feelings. Just be there for them and make sure they know that,” Mrs. O’Brien said.