Changing Seasons + Seasonal Affective Disorder
Updated: Aug 30, 2021
As discussed in previously blogs, this year has been filled with unknowns and changes. One thing that we can depend on is the change of seasons, yet these transitions can also impact our mental health.
In Colorado, the aspens put on a beautiful, gold show to signify the arrival of fall. While eventual cooler temperatures, cozy clothes and warmer meals are a welcome change for some, 1-10% of the population can begin to struggle with something called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Instead of the occasional low energy or mood that can result from dwindling sunlight and activity, people experiencing SAD are experiencing a form of depression.
“SAD is more frequent in people who live far north or south of the equator. For example, 1 percent of those who live in Florida and 9 percent of those who live in New England or Alaska suffer from SAD.” - NIMH
People who live farther from the equator or have a family history of depression are at heightened risk for SAD, and women are also 4x more likely to have SAD than men. Someone struggling with SAD will have changes in mood similar to a depressive episode (low motivation, isolation, hopelessness, feeling down on themselves), find themselves sleeping more, may gain weight, and not see a relief of symptoms until spring/summer months. To meet criteria for SAD, someone has to endorse experiencing these changes for at least 2 years in a row.
Outside of the overwhelming heaviness of the pandemic, do you feel like fall and/or winter is always particularly hard for you?
Giving someone a diagnosis or label is much less important to me than identifying these kinds of concerns so that we can address them. Spending 4-6 months of the year dealing with mood changes due to SAD can feel like an annual setback that there are treatments for. In therapy, I help people make a plan to break down this cycle of depression by incorporating evidence-based treatments that address mood and negative thinking. I provide education on light therapy and am happy to discuss your thoughts on speaking to your doctor about antidepressants, which have also been effective for SAD.
If you deal with Major Depressive Disorder and notice your symptoms changing or worsening with the seasons, we can address it! If you feel like there is no hope for things improving, I hold hope for you, reach out.
*Statistics from National Institute of Mental Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml