Feeling SAD? Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder

Note: Please keep in mind that this article is based on the experiences of the author, who is not a mental health expert.

Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’ve all probably experienced the winter blues. Once the colder weather hits, it’s harder to get up in the morning and the day just seems to drag on, without any sun in sight. However, some people experience a case of winter blues that starts to impact their daily routine. Known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD, this condition affects 2% to 3% of the Canadian population every year. While this may be a small percentage, not everyone who experiences this actually seek help. Let’s change that.

As someone who experiences SAD, I urge you to educate yourself on the subject to identify and prevent it. Read on to find out more about this condition, along with the signs and treatment options.

So What Exactly Is SAD?

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that usually starts in fall and ends once spring begins. In rare cases, SAD can extend to spring and summer months. The lack of sunlight has numerous effects on the body: it changes our internal clock, decreases melatonin and sertraline, and neglects the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that controls our mood, appetite and sleep.

Photo by Ivan Obolensky

What Are the Signs?

Seasonal affective disorder has a lot of symptoms commonly seen in depression. According to Mayo Clinic, people affected by SAD usually experience low mood, low energy and a loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. Additionally, changes in sleep and appetite, concentration issues, and feelings of sluggishness and agitation can also be caused by SAD. At worst, seasonal depression sufferers will report feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or guilt, and suicidal thoughts.

If you’re having suicidal thoughts or are in a crisis, visit your local emergency department or call 911. Additionally, York University offers crisis counselling for its students and Good 2 Talk (1-866-925-5454)  is available to call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Photo by Hadis Safari

What Should I Do if I Think I Might Have SAD?

First off, schedule an appointment with your doctor and share your concerns. While your symptoms may point to seasonal depression, you might actually be experiencing other health issues such as anemia or fatigue.

If SAD ends up being the culprit, there are multiple ways that it can be treated. Some options include medication, therapy and light therapy. Light therapy differs from regular therapy since you don’t need a medical professional to do it - all it requires is a light box or lamp and 30 minutes of your day. If money is an issue, affordable lamps can easily be found on Amazon.

Photo by Joel Henry

While it may be difficult, the most effective way to maintain your mood is through regular healthy habits such as exercise, healthy eating and sleep. Seasonal affective disorder will not last forever, but it can seem hopeless when you’re in the midst of it. Remember to reach out for help from loved ones, your family doctor or York University’s services.