Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, defines seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as “a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year, experience depressive symptoms in the winter ….. repeatedly, year after year.” More common terms for SAD are ‘winter depression’ or ‘winter blues.’ Some people report similar symptoms during spring, summer, and autumn with changes of the seasons, but the occurrence rate is not as high as in the winter months.
SAD is a disorder that was first viewed skeptically by some mental health professionals. Now it is accepted to be a legitimate mental illness. It was first described and given a name in 1984 by Norman E. Rosenthal and his colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health.
Ther are two theories as to why people experience SAD during winter months.
1. The decrease in daylight hours during the winter – In addition, people tend to spend less time outdoors during cold winter months, thus they are not exposed to enough sunlight.
2. Melatonin is a brain chemical that helps to induce sleep. It is produced in dim light and darkness by the body’s pineal gland. The increase in melatonin production could result in drowsiness and lethargy.
Studies have shown that SAD is experienced by a considerable number of adults in the United States. Statistics range from 1.4% in Florida, which is typically a sunny state, to 9.7% in New Hampshire, which is considered to be a colder, darker environment.
Mental health professions use a medical manual as a reference book in diagnosing mental illness. This book is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). A roman numeral follows the initials and is used to indicate that a manual has been revised and is a newer, updated reference source.
Information in the DSM-IV manual indicates that SAD is not a unique mood disorder but is an indicator that someone may actually be suffering from major depression.
Some of the symptoms of SAD are:
** An overall feeling of depression
** Sleeping too much
** Difficulty awakening in the morning or actually oversleeping
** A decrease in energy level
** Difficulty concentrating or completing tasks
** Isolating yourself from others by withdrawing from family, friends, and social activities
** Not engaging yourself in activities that would normally interest you
** Overeating with a specific craving for foods that contain carbohydrates
There are several recommended treatments for SAD.
1. Light therapy – This is one of the most common treatments since variations in mood are believed to be related to light. If you feel ‘blue’ or depressed, you should make an effort to spend some time outdoors, especially on sunny days. Also, special bright lights can be purchased and used indoors.
2. Antidepressant medications – Some medical professionals feel that SAD results from a lack of adequate serotonin levels in the body. Serotonin is found in the gastrointestinal tract, blood platelets, and the central nervous system. It is known as a ‘happiness hormone.’ One group of antidepressants has found to be the most effective in treating SAD. This group is called SSRIs and include several different medications. A medical professional can perform assessments and decide which medication should be prescribed.
3. Exercise – Not only does exercise help you to become more healthy physically, it helps to make you mentally healthier. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins which are chemicals that make you feel good.
4. Cognitive-behavioral therapy – On 9-03-10, I wrote an article entitled “Cognitive Therapy and How It Is Used to Treat Mental Illness.” This type of therapy is used to change negative, inaccurate, or irrational thought patterns that can result in depression or make existing depression worse. If you are interested in learning more about this recommended treatment, please refer to the September article.
If you feel that you are experiencing SAD, you should consult a medical professional. Sometimes primary care providers (PCPs) are comfortable in diagnosing and treating mood disorders. After all, your family doctor is familiar with your overall general health, personalitly, etc. He / she may choose to refer you to and recommend a mental health professional.
If you are unsure about where to seek help, please refer to these local facilities that specialize in diagnosing and treating mental illness. Also, you can simply look in the phone book Yellow Pages under the heading “Mental Health Services.”
** Comprehensive Care – located at 1351 Newtown Pike – phone number 859-233-0444
** St. Joseph Behavioral Health System – located at 861 Corporate Drive, Suite 103 – phone 859-224-2022
** The Morton Group – located at 2647 Regency Road – phone 859-373-0077
** Beaumont Behavioral Health – located at 1000 Monarch Street, Suite 250 – phone 859-296-3141
Don’t suffer in silence. Ask for help and enjoy Lexington’s remaining winter months !!
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