What is Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) typically comes in two forms: a mild version referred to as the ‘winter blues,’ and a more invasive variant that’s SAD – a classification of depression. Unlike the winter blues, which are often brought on by more time isolated indoors and a lack of sunlight, the latter affects a person’s daily life, including how they think, feel and act. The milder version affects most people (10-20 percent of Americans), often seen by a drop in the neurotransmitter’s serotonin level, notable weight gain, and lethargy.
SAD impacts about 5 percent of the population. Symptoms that often accompany the condition include:
- Mood changes, feeling depressed most of the day, more days than not.
- Loss of interest in activities a person previously enjoyed.
- Having low energy, often experiencing sluggishness.
- Problems with sleep; circadian rhythm changes altering REM patterns.
- Difficulty concentrating on aspects of work and personal life.
- Experiencing significant changes in appetite or weight.
- Easily becoming agitated.
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness; isolating.
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide.
A behavioral health provider may diagnose a person with SAD if they have any of these conditions, accompanied by symptoms of seasonal depression, including:
- If they’ve been diagnosed with a major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder in the past.
- Depressive episodes occur during specific seasons for at least two consecutive years.
- Consistent depressive episodes happen more often during a specific season than during the rest of the year.
The Importance of Seasonal Affective Disorder Awareness Month
December is the perfect time to address SAD.
The importance of awareness is in the diagnosis. Those who experience life-altering mood changes during the winter season should consult with a mental health professional regarding the cause, and what treatment options would help reduce the symptoms of SAD.
Should the behavioral health assessment reveal a condition that’s more significant than SAD, the diagnosis and treatment could be even more beneficial for living a productive and enjoyable life. Either way, it is always important to get health checkups regularly – both physical and mental. December is an advantageous time of the year to do it, as many people’s insurance plans are expiring, and costs could be low (Free?) if they’ve met their annual deductible, or if their plan includes complimentary screenings.
Behavioral Health Practitioners Raising Awareness
Most people with SAD don’t realize that they have it. It is an ideal time for behavioral health practices to utilize their influence in their communities to raise awareness of it. Using their website and social media accounts to educate residents about the symptoms, and to encourage them to seek evaluation if they’re experiencing any of them, is a beneficial move.
Including referral partners in the awareness campaign helps practices spread the word through primary care practitioners and other professionals who have access to those who may be suffering.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline, also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service, can be reached at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or TTY: 1-800-487-4889. It’s a free, confidential, always available information service, in both English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental or substance use disorders. It provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.
988 is the three-digit dialing code that will route callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline) throughout the United States.
Those in immediate need may call, text, or chat at 988, to be connected to trained counselors who are part of the Lifeline network. These professionals will listen, understand how the person’s problems are affecting them, provide support, and connect them to resources if necessary.