It’s the Season for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Posted November 15th, 2011 by

Now that daylight savings time has ended, the days are shorter, and before you know it, it’s nightfall.  Has this affected your mood?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, is a condition marked by a period of depression that occurs during the same season year after year.  In most cases, that season would be fall through winter (when there is less sunlight), but for some people, SAD can occur during spring or summer.

An Example of a Light Therapy Box Used to Treat SAD

One of the best ways to learn “what’s normal and not normal?” with SAD is to compare your experiences with other patients. There are 446 patients with SAD at PatientsLikeMe, with 85% of them female and 15% male.  A commonly reported treatment is light therapy, or the use of a special light box that exposes you to bright light.  This mimics the effect of natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals that positively affects your mood.  (Does it really work?  Check out the 27 treatment evaluations for light therapy that our patients have submitted.)

What’s it like to live with SAD?  Here are some first-hand reports from members of our mental health community, who answered the question “What are your SAD symptoms?

  • “My symptoms tend to be worsening depression and anxiety.  There are no ‘indicator’ symptoms for me – meaning I don’t realize necessarily ‘Oh I’m starting to feel SAD, crap!’  But all of my Major Depressive Episodes (five so far since I was 20) have occurred in November and December.  And looking back, I can see a downward trend in especially depressive symptoms getting worse starting in mid October – such as depressed mood, more frequent crying spells, fatigue, worse insomnia, headaches worsen, weight and appetite changes, and urges to self-injure.  Three of my Major Depressive Episodes led to suicidal thoughts and short hospitalizations.  The other two, I had frequent suicidal thoughts but did not feel in danger of acting upon them.” – Member with panic disorder
  • “[Symptoms are] mild now, but they ran the spectrum from comatose to the walking functional. Kids don’t understand, and our school bus arrived at 6:00 a.m. Needless to say they weren’t hungry, food on the bus = school contraband, so I’d whip up scrambled eggs with cheese and wrap them in a taco shell and tell them to sneak a bite when they got hungry. They just threw them in the bushes for the local dogs to eat. Then I’d watch TV and answer the ever increasing phone calls all day long. If I felt OK, I’d start to prepare for the tornado that was spring.  Nowadays since I don’t have so much responsibility, my symptoms seem mild, but that could change depending on the winds of life events.” – Member with bipolar II disorder
  • “I think it varies year to year in terms of severity.  The March/April period is characterized by an increase in my anxiety levels together with restlessness and restrictive eating. The September/October period is characterized by an increase in my feelings of sadness along with intense carbohydrate cravings and a need to sleep more.  Both periods are marked by problems concentrating.  I notice that the light box really helps with the carbohydrate cravings. I think it might even make me less hungry overall.  It’s not that the cravings go away entirely, but instead they are dampened to the level where I *don’t* find myself eating cookies without realizing how I got them.” – Member with major depressive disorder

Wondering what else they patients have to say about SAD?  Or think you might experience the condition yourself?  Join PatientsLikeMe and take part in this ongoing SAD forum discussion.


5 Comments

  1. I think many people are affected by SAD and not even know it. And just like pointed out by of those people affected, you can definitely see people upping up the carbs when they eat. I just tend to be more aware of what I’m feeling and try to keep it in check!

  2. I have dealt with winter SAD as long as I can remember. While it may result from shorter days and less daylight, using a “light box” would have negative effects.

    As a lifelong epilepsy patient who is photosensitive, I must wear sunglasses at all times of year, even winter. On a brightly sunny winter day here in New England, the reflection from a clean, newly fallen snow covering can trigger a seizure or merely cause me great dis comfort. Instead, I must rely on positive thinking.

  3. This is a very good example of the value phototherapy brings. Waiting for the first Valkee bright light headset reviews to appear.

  4. φωτιστικα προσφορεσ…

    […]The Value of Openness: The PatientsLikeMe Blog » It’s the Season for Seasonal Affective Disorder[…]…

  5. Good information about Seasonal Affective Disorder SAD and lighttherapy at the website of the Light and Health Research Foundation SOLG. Professionals, please feel free to join the Lighttherapy and Phototherapy group at LinkedIn. You’re most welcome.

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