3 posts tagged “Seasonal Affective Disorder”

Is seasonal affective disorder real? Some call it “folk psychology”— others say it’s legit

Posted 7 months ago by

Mental health experts first recognized seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — or depression that follows a seasonal pattern — in 1987. Some recent research has called SAD into question. What’s with the clashing theories? What do U.S. healthcare experts say, as of today? And how do people treat SAD? Read on.

Questioning SAD

Both culturally and clinically, most people have accepted SAD as a type of depression since it was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) about 30 years ago.

But in January 2016, the journal Clinical Psychological Science published the results of a large-scale U.S. survey that questioned the validity of SAD. The authors’ conclusion? “Depression is unrelated to latitude, season, or sunlight. Results do not support the validity of a seasonal modifier in major depression. The idea of seasonal depression may be strongly rooted in folk psychology, but it is not supported by objective data.” The authors recommended that mental health professionals should possibly stop officially recognizing a seasonal aspect in the diagnosis of major depression.

The DSM (diagnostic manual) still includes SAD, but the 2016 survey led some psychological experts to declare that there’s “no evidence that levels of depressive symptoms vary from season to season.” It also caused some confusion about the legitimacy of SAD in the media, and led to headlines like “Seasonal affective disorder is probably a myth” and “SAD doesn’t exist — here’s the science.”

While no one is questioning the validity of depression as a diagnosis or real condition, the 2016 study has muddied the waters around whether depression may be associated with seasons.

Tip: PatientsLikeMe is a great place to track how you’re feeling each day and look back at previous seasons or years to spot any possible trends (and share them with your doctor or provider).

NIHM: SAD is real, let’s tweet about it

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) still considers SAD a legitimate type of depression, and outlines the symptoms, risk factors and treatments here. It’s so real (and important) that they recently hosted a Twitter chat on the topic of SAD (see an archive of the chat here for non-Twitter users). Psychiatrist Matthew Rudorfer, M.D., chief of the Somatic Treatments Program at NIMH, helped answer questions in the chat on Feb. 20.

Some key stats and facts shared in the Twitter chat?

  • The exact causes of SAD are unknown. Researchers have found people with SAD may have imbalance of serotonin, a chemical that affects mood. Their bodies also make too much melatonin (a hormone that regulates sleep), and not enough vitamin D.
  • Regionally, the rates of SAD increase with more northern latitude in the U.S. For example, rates of SAD ranges from slightly over 1% in Florida to 9% in New England or Alaska. [The 2015 study NIMH cites seems to contradict the findings of the 2016 survey that found no correlation with latitude or season.]
  • SAD typically hits in the late fall and early winter and goes away during the spring and summer, but depressive episodes linked to the summer can occur (yet they’re less common)
  • SAD is diagnosed four times more often in women than men.

The bottom line? “Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression, a serious illness,” NIHM says. “If you or someone you know may have depression, talk to a health care provider. Don’t try to treat depression on your own with dietary supplements or other products.”

NIMH says there are four major types of treatment for SAD, which may be used alone or in combination (talk with a doctor or licensed mental healthcare provider to make a treatment plan):

  • Medication
  • Light therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Vitamin D

On PatientsLikeMe, more than 800 people say they have seasonal affective disorder, with nearly 200 of them saying SAD is their primary condition. The treatment that members with SAD have reported the most frequently is light therapy.

Interestingly, some publications that labeled SAD “folk psychology” back in 2016 shared a different message following the recent NIMH Twitter chat about SAD: “It’s real — and it’s serious.”

What’s your experience with SAD or seasonal depression? Do you think SAD is its own type of depression? Join PatientsLikeMe to talk about topics like this with with our mental health community, including 20,000+ people living with depression.

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Coping with Holiday Stress and Blues

Posted December 16th, 2011 by

All Types of Patients Are Susceptible to Holiday Stress

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.  Or is it?

The holidays can be a time of merriment and joy marked by festive parties and family reunions.  But they can also be quite challenging.

Despite the great cheer advertised everywhere you look, some people find themselves struggling with stress, anxiety, loneliness and/or depression.  This phenomenon is sometimes called the “holiday blues.”  Add to that things like fatigue, insomnia and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – which affect many PatientsLikeMe members on a regular basis – and you have the recipe for a perfect holiday storm.

Here’s a look at how our patients are attempting to cope with the stresses of the season:

  • “Seeing all the lights, the preparations, the shopping for the holidays makes me dread what is coming.  I try to go to low-key places where there isn’t as much traffic and aren’t as many people.  I try to play down the importance of everything so I don’t become so obsessed with choices and opinions.  I take breaks.  LOTS of breaks.  I try to make sure I take them before I even become overwhelmed in the first place. And I try to find free things to replace some of the costs – either as presents or activities.” – Patient with major depressive disorder
  • “Having family meet on a major holiday is enough to upset the emotional applecart so to speak.  Try just to do an average job of cooking, it doesn’t have to be perfect.  Take a break when you can…get involved in objective projects: carefully following a recipe or cooking something with your mind fully on it can help calm panic attacks.  If you are doing your best, that will be the best you can do.” – Patient with Parkinson’s
  • “It puts a lot of stress and pressure on me. I have three children who get a lil’ demanding, and then a husband who expects me to travel with three demanding children and then stay at relatives’ tiny houses, etc. The noise, the gossip, the fake hugs from relatives who really do not like me, it all honestly just ‘gets to me.’ But this year, I’m taking my power back by saying NO to the parts of the holidays in which I do not want to participate.” – Patient with bipolar I disorder
  • “Sometimes I get depressed because I’m usually one of those people who have to get assistance to give their children gifts for the holidays. I also get depressed because I don’t look the way I want to (I am overweight) and do not want people to see me like that. So the gatherings can be nerve wracking for me. [But] I am learning to let go of the ‘shoulds.’ Not easy, but it can be done.  If I am really not feeling up to something (I get exhausted really easily), then I allow myself to not go, or not run the thing like I used to, or only bring one thing instead of 3 or 4. Pacing myself has been a good thing to learn.” – Patient with fibromyalgia

Are you feeling signs of the “holiday blues”?  Are the demands on your time and your pocketbook starting to overwhelm you?  Before you pack up the car or welcome any house guests, check out these great tips from the Mayo Clinic for getting through the holidays with as much joy as possible.