Seasonal Depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) - Discussion
Seasonal depression is also referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short. Some people misspell the condition as "seasonal effective disorder".
As the name suggests, this form of depression occurs during one particular time of the year, every year, especially during winter. This condition is commonly referred to as winter blues, or as sometimes as winter depression, and generally passes away at the end of the season.
People residing in high-altitude regions where winters are extreme are noted to suffer from SAD more frequently as compared to people living in other areas. Statistics indicate that nearly five percent of the people in the United States suffer from seasonal depression in any given year, and that another 15 to 20 percent suffer from moderate SAD. Most persons who suffer from SAD are women between the ages 20 and 40. There have also been instances of SAD reported in teens and children in the recent past.
Some of the common symptoms which manifest in persons suffering from seasonal depression include feeling sad, being low, feeling lonely, having a lack of interest in normal activities, having the inability to concentrate, as well as having weak memory.
In addition to these symptoms, patients suffering from SAD become highly irritable and hypersensitive. They start avoiding company and participating in social engagements. Other major symptoms include lack of sleep at nights or insomnia, accompanied by fatigue, depleting energy levels, and physical ailments like headaches and various other aches and pains that do not respond to treatment.
Seasonally depressed persons also crave sweet food items and tend to overeat, resulting in weight gain; they then have trouble overcoming this problem. Further, it has been noted that there are some persons who lose their appetite, and this results in weight loss instead.
Role of Sunlight
While the real cause for SAD has not been determined, several theories have been suggested. One such explanation indicates that SAD is caused by the non-availability of sunlight. The circadian rhythm or the biological clock that regulates sleep and wake cycles works according to the day and night cycle and, if there is an imbalance or disruption in this activity, it results in hormonal changes, disturbed sleep patterns and affected mood.
The availability of sunlight helps to regulate sleep and brings about much needed hormonal balance, which in turn regulates and controls moods. Thus, light therapy is said to help treat patients with SAD or winter depression.
Also referred to as phototherapy, light therapy is dispensed using an apparatus that has white lights covered with an anti-radiation screen to prevent ultraviolet rays from passing. The minimum light passed is 10,000 lux. The affected persons are requested to sit at least 2.5 to 3 feet away from the apparatus and advised not to stare or make eye contact with the light. They are free to sit and read, knit, or eat while sitting in front of the phototherapy apparatus. Phototherapy is a non-invasive and safe procedure that is effective in treating most persons suffering from SAD or seasonal depression.
In addition to light therapy, afflicted persons might also be prescribed certain antidepressants. It is, as always, our stand that the use of pharmaceutical drugs should only be a last resort, with other safer and more natural remedies first explored. Drug medications, after all, almost always come with many dangerous side effects, even fatal reactions.
Self Help Strategies and Natural Remedies for Seasonal Depression
Besides ongoing phototherapy and a course of antidepressants, persons suffering from SAD or seasonal depression must be encouraged to engage in outdoor activities on a daily basis before winter begins. They should enroll into an exercise program or yoga so that they are prepared to face winter in a calm and relaxed state of mind, rather than panic and tie themselves up in knots at the very beginning of winter.
During fall or even before, it is good to start on a balanced diet of proteins, carbohydrates, fresh fruits and vegetables. This will reduce the craving for carbohydrates during winter and one will not indulge in overeating.
As far as possible, if there is an option, it is advisable to stay around people rather than live in solitude. One should also try and stay connected with friends and family through email, chat, phone, etc, so that there is someone to share ones thoughts and feelings with.
Cultivating new hobbies which stimulate one's mind also helps a lot in controlling negative thoughts and emotions. For example, playing a game of scrabble every night, trying cryptic crosswords, or solving Sudoku puzzles all contribute towards maintaining mind control. This thus helps to prevent seasonal affective disorder or seasonal depression.
Despite all efforts, if one feels that he or she is slipping into SAD or seasonal depression, it would be best to seek professional help immediately and to ensure that all suggested treatment and therapy is strictly followed. Friends and family should keep an eye out for loved ones suffering from SAD because if this condition goes untreated, the depressed persons can go into deep depression and contemplate suicide.
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