Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that comes and goes as the seasons change. People who live in countries such as Norway, Russia, and Greenland will likely experience the symptoms of this disorder to a much greater extent than someone who lives in Mexico or India for example. This is due to how close or far these countries are to the equator.
To be diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, you must meet the full criteria for major depressive disorder coinciding with specific seasons (typically the fall and winter months) for at least 2 years. People suffering from this mood disorder will find day to day life to be extremely difficult for them when they are experiencing the symptoms associated with it.
Though someone with seasonal affective disorder will likely experience depressive symptoms during the months of fall and winter, it is also possible for them to experience these symptoms in the months of spring and summer also, though it is less common. However, in some parts of the world, such as Northern Canada and Russia, much of their weather throughout the year is dreary and cloudy.
It is also important to note that someone merely feeling sad or lonely due to rainy weather does not mean that they are then suffering from seasonal affective disorder. Rather, it means that they are experiencing symptoms that are associated with this condition. If they were suffering from full blown seasonal affective disorder, then they would have to have been experiencing depressive symptoms for much longer than a day or two.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Someone suffering from seasonal affective disorder will experience most of the symptoms of major depressive disorder. This means that they will experience a great deal of sadness and emptiness even when there is no apparent reason to feel that way. Unlike typical depression, someone’s symptoms of seasonal affective disorder will occur due to the type of weather in their environment.
Their mood will remain depressive, but the severity of their symptoms will likely vary depending on the dreariness of the weather. For instance, someone with severe seasonal affective disorder may experience the worst of their symptoms in the dark months of winter, but feel much less severe symptoms during the month of summer, depending on what part of the world they live in of course.
Someone with this condition can also expect to experience a lack of interest in things once enjoyed. The gloomy weather that surrounds them may sap their energy and creativity. It is not uncommon for someone suffering from this disorder so severely that they have difficulty finding a good reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Below, you will see some more symptoms of seasonal affective disorder:
- Deep sadness due to gloomy weather
- Loss of appetite
- Suicidal ideation
- Lack of motivation
- Loss of interest in things once enjoyed
Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Gloomy or dreary weather is one of the most pertinent causes of seasonal affective disorder. People who live very far from the equator (e.g. Canada, Iceland, Russia, Alaska, etc.) will likely have a much higher risk for developing this condition than if they lived in Brazil or The Philippines, for example. This has to do with amount of visible sunlight people in these locations are subjected to.
Theoretically, the less sunlight in one’s environment, the higher the risk is for developing seasonal affective disorder. For example, the city of Seattle, Washington in the United States has a long history of having high suicide rates, especially compared to other states in the country. This has been thought to possibly be contributed to the very rainy weather that the city of Seattle has throughout the year.
Besides environmental factors such as this, genetics are also likely to play very significant roles in the development of this condition. For instance, if someone has a family history of mental illness, especially with mood disorders, then they may also have a higher chance of developing seasonal affective disorder. This will likely be due to them also having a higher chance of having the genetic makeup that will allow for such a disorder to develop in the first place.
Though we do not definitively know what causes all mood disorders, there is an overwhelming consensus among mental health professionals that this condition is caused by constant gloomy weather, genetics, and other environmental factors. Taking a close look at these different parameters may help you to see if you are at risk for developing this condition.
There are several different treatments for this disorder. These include light therapy, talk therapy, and medication. Unlike many other mental disorders, such as most personality disorders and psychotic disorders, mood disorders are very treatable, especially if a healthy diet and consistent exercise is implemented.
Light therapy can be implemented by having the patient spend more time outside in the sunlight. They can also use a computer-controlled heliostat to reflect sunlight into the windows of a home or office. They may also be prescribed to use what are called light therapy lamps. Light therapy lamps are used to help uplift the mood of the person suffering with seasonal affective disorder as it is a lack of sunlight exposure that is a major cause of this disorder in the first place.
Talk therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be able to help someone suffering from this condition as it is also a very common form of treatment for people suffering from major depressive disorder. CBT may be able to help the depressed person with discovering and implementing new, healthier behaviors when they feel down. Such new behaviors may be exercising more, opposite emotion action, as well as other ways to cope with their emptiness, among other things.
Antidepressants such as Sertraline (Zoloft) may be very beneficial for someone suffering from seasonal affective disorder as well. However, this is something that you should first discuss with your doctor.
If you think you may have seasonal affective disorder or if you are suffering from some of the symptoms of this condition, then you should reach out to a mental health professional as soon as possible to get properly diagnosed and treated.
You can easily find a licensed therapist, psychiatrist, or treatment center in your area by searching the Psych Times Directory.