It is not unusual to feel a bit glum once summer is over and the weather turns cold and miserable, but for some people, the slow descent into winter can lead to a major case of the blues that does not go away until the first spring bulbs begin to peek through a few months later.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder and What Causes it?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression. Unlike other types of depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder has a pattern and many people find that their symptoms worsen over the winter months, although in a few cases, the symptoms of SAD can be triggered by the onset of summer.
Experts believe that Seasonal Affective Disorder is caused by the change of seasons at different times of the year, or more specifically, the decrease and increase in the amount of daylight.
The most common type of Seasonal Affective Disorder affects people at the onset of winter when the days become shorter and we typically find ourselves going to work and coming home in the dark.
Sunlight has many effects on the body. Not only does exposure to the sun give you a nice tan, it also stimulates the hypothalamus in the brain to produce a number of important hormones, including serotonin and melatonin.
A lack of sunlight causes less melatonin and more serotonin to be produced, both of which can have a disastrous effect on mood, energy levels, appetite, and sleep patterns.
How Common is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is much more common in women than men and tends to affect younger people — the older you are, the less likely you are to suffer from SAD. The disorder is also more commonly seen in countries where the winters are long and the days are short, which is why the illness is often referred to as a “winter depression”.
However, although Seasonal Affective Disorder typically affects people during the winter months, some people can develop the symptoms of SAD in the spring, just as the days start to lengthen.
This would suggest that a lack of sunlight is not the only factor in the development of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and like other forms of depression, the illness can be caused by many different things, including genetics and psychological factors.
What are the Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Depression can occur at any time of the year, but if you find that your depression returns around the same time each year, you could be suffering from SAD. You are also likely to find that your depression worsens as the days become shorter and the lack of sunlight begins to take effect.
Like other types of depression, SAD is characterized by typical depressive symptoms including low mood, loss of interest in normal interests and activities, sleep and appetite problems, and feelings of worthlessness.
Symptoms also include weight gain and an increased appetite for all things calorific and stodgy, a complete lack of energy, and feeling tired and listless all the time.