Imagine a life with a dark cloud that follows you everywhere you go during fall and winter months. And once spring arrives, sunny days fill you with sunshine and happy days. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) with a seasonal pattern, formerly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), affects up to 10% of the population, depending on geographic location. It’s no wonder that there is a common phrase for people that thrive on sunshine called “sun-worshippers”. Ultimately, MDD with a seasonal pattern is far more serious than just being in a funk or having the “winter blues”. Some have described it as feeling like a numb sadness, falling, drowning or a dark hole.
Doctors and therapists use the guidelines from the Diagnostic Statistical Manual V to diagnose and look for all criteria for Major Depressive Disorder coinciding with specific seasons.
Symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder include:
Feeling depressed most of the day, everyday
Feeling hopeless or worthless
Having low energyFeel depressed most of the day, almost every day
Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
Having problems with sleep
Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
Feeling sluggish or agitated
Having difficulty concentrating
Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
And they tend to have a seasonal pattern:
Relational pattern with symptoms and time of year (fall and winter)
Depression disappears in the spring
Studies have found that women are diagnosed four times as many times as men. Younger adults have a higher risk of being diagnosed than older adults. It has even been reported in children and teens. Individuals that have a family history of depression are at greater risk to develop MDD with a seasonal pattern than people that do not have a family history of depression.
Unfortunately, the causes of this diagnosis are unknown. But research is carving the way to understanding this diagnosis more fully. One study found that people with MDD with seasonal pattern have 5% serotonin transporter protein in winter months than summer months. Serotonin is a chemical nerve cells produced in the brain and is thought to regulate anxiety, happiness, and mood. Some individuals may overproduce the hormone melatonin. They may also produce less vitamin D. As researchers discover more data about why symptoms occur, we learn how to prevent and treat the diagnosis more effectively.
The good news is that there is a wide range of effective treatments available to help. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Professional support is available to treat this debilitating disorder including light therapy, medication, psychotherapy and/or vitamin D.
If you know you have a seasonal pattern, ask yourself – “How can I plan for this?” Since this disorder has a specific pattern, those who experience it can plan ahead in several ways.
Exercise more toward the end of summer
Get into therapy in September
Plan a vacation to a sunny place in January
Some may do well with treatment only during the months that symptoms are most prevalent, while others benefit from year round treatment. One must realize that this is a medical condition and should be treated. Consider what will be best for you, and move forward with a strategy to know you can manage the disorder well by knowing what you need and when you need it.