Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) typically presents as a depression that occurs at the same time each year, usually around the winter months. As with other forms of depression, SAD is characterised by feelings of sadness and a decreased interest in life. Other symptoms of include being less active than usual and sleeping more often or for longer. The symptoms typically manifest in autumn, when the days become shorter and darker. In most instances, symptoms of SAD improve before totally fading in the spring.
The actual cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder is uncertain; however, it is believed to be associated with limited exposure to sunlight during the winter months. Some of the brain’s neurotransmitters and hormones can be altered by sunlight. Some theories suggest that light activates the hypothalamus, a brain region that regulates mood, appetite, and sleep and can influence how we feel. The hypothalamus malfunctions in SAD patients due to a deficiency of sunlight which affects the generation of the melatonin and serotonin hormones and the circadian rhythm of the body (the internal clock of the body that regulates several biological processes over 24 hours) SAD, like other forms of depression, can be challenging to manage. It can leave us fatigued, anxious, and miserable.
Classic (winter-based) Seasonal Affective Disorder is treated with light therapy, medicine, ionised air, Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, and taking melatonin as a supplement. Light therapy is a common treatment for SAD which involves sitting in front of or below a light-box. Depending on the nature and intensity of your symptoms, your doctor may offer talking therapies such as CBT or prescribe antidepressants, or a combination of treatments. Because the arrival of winter pattern SAD is so predictable, individuals with a history of SAD may benefit from commencing the above-mentioned treatments before the fall to prevent or alleviate depression.
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