As the days of sunlight grow shorter and the weather cools, many people experience feelings of melancholy. While it is normal to feel a little bit down over the change of seasons, if it begins to affect your attitude or daily life, it is important to seek out help.
If you feel down over the change of season, know that you are not alone. Per WebMD, seasonal depression, known as SAD, affects 11 million people in the U.S. each year, and 25 million more may have a milder form called the winter blues. SAD is the acronym for Seasonal Affective Disorder, a mood disorder that generally starts in the fall or winter and ends in early spring or summer. WebMD explains, “Some scientists think that certain hormones made deep in the brain trigger attitude-related changes at certain times of the year. Experts believe that SAD may be related to these hormonal changes.” This is linked to the theory that less sunlight during fall and winter leads to the brain making less serotonin, a chemical linked to brain pathways that regulate mood. “When nerve cell pathways in the brain that regulate mood don’t work the way they should, the result can be feelings of depression, along with symptoms of fatigue and weight gain.”
Light therapy, also known as bright light therapy or phototherapy, is currently used for SAD. This involves exposure to artificial light, which mimics natural outdoor light. The goal is to combat depression through the beneficial use of light. Most treatments begin in the fall and continue through the winter and require time and consistency for results. While it is not considered a cure, the therapy is known to help improve symptoms in some individuals. It’s important to note that light therapy is not for everyone, as certain people may have sensitivity to light or have medical conditions that may render it unsafe. Additionally, the severity of SAD varies from person to person, and there is no “one solution fits all” to treat depression. However, it is essential that anyone with symptoms that feel overwhelmed, depressed, unmotivated, or hopeless reach out for immediate help.
It is believed that there are some common risk factors for SAD, including where one lives on the globe. People who live far north or south of the equator are most affected by SAD, as they experience less sunlight in the winter months and longer days during the summer, per HelpGuide. Gender, age, and family history also come into play. Though 3 out of 4 sufferers of SAD are women, men often experience more severe symptoms. Also, winter SAD is generally diagnosed in people aged 18 to 30, with less occurrence as one grows older. Having relatives with SAD or other depressions may put individuals at further risk.
Understanding the probable causes of SAD and knowing that there is hope in terms of treatment to deal with the disorder provides promise for managing conditions. While there is still much to discover, scientists and doctors have come a long way in their knowledge. One of the amazing things they have worked to do is dethrone the old stigmas associated with mental health issues. Knowing that we are not alone, that there are doctors and people who care, and that there is new hope in terms of therapies, counseling, lifestyle changes, and medications if needed, we can work to combat SAD and restore hope to millions affected by the condition.
Feeling low? What you need to know
It is not uncommon to feel slightly disappointed that fun summer activities are winding down. But, if you feel low for a length of time and can’t snap out of it, it is possible that the cause is related to clinical depression. True depression may be induced by major life events, such as divorce, illness, death of a loved one, difficult social and economic changes, loneliness, the effects of COVID-19, and sometimes drug or alcohol abuse. Some cases of depression may be related to family history, physical changes of the body, such as giving birth or aging. And there are those cases which have no easily identifiable cause. For all cases of sadness, know that with help there is hope. Prolonged sadness or significant lows that effect self-esteem should be immediately addressed with a medical doctor who can offer help, counseling, lifestyle changes, and helpful medications if required. If thoughts of suicide are present, please call the number below.
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This article is purely informational and is not intended as a substitute for medical advice.