Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) occurs when a person experiences depressive symptoms during specific times of the year, usually in the winter months. Symptoms typically begin in the fall when daylight decreases, and subsides in the spring with the return of longer days. People with SAD experience depressive symptoms, including difficulty sleeping, sadness, low energy levels, irritability, and an inability to concentrate. Because SAD is associated with low light levels that occur during the winter months, light therapy is a primary course of treatment for sufferers. In addition, SAD may be treated with the help of antidepressant medication, therapy, and lifestyle adjustments, including exercise and dietary changes.
see your doctor. Make an appointment with your doctor to diagnose the condition and discuss options for treatment. The doctor may do a physical exam, as well as ask you some questions about your moods and habits. Your doctor may ask about:
- Your symptoms and any patterns to them (for example, if they occur around the same time every year).
- Your sleeping and eating habits.
- Your lifestyle. It will be important to note if you work varied or night shifts, for example.
- Your personal and family history. Your doctor may want to know if you have any previous history with depression, or if it runs in your family.
- Be sure to raise any additional concerns with your doctor, even if your behavior or emotions don’t correlate with seasonal affective disorder, so your doctor can rule out any other concerns. For example, you could say, “I’m feeling pretty depressed, but I also feel very anxious and have trouble sleeping some nights.”
- Consider an antidepressant. Your doctor may recommend medication if your symptoms are severe. Usually a combination of medication and other treatments are recommended since the medication may not completely eliminate the problem.
- Wellbutrin is the only drug approved by the FDA to treat SAD, but other antidepressants may be used depending on your health history and the effectiveness of the medication. Sometimes antidepressants work differently in different people.
- Other antidepressant medications that could be prescribed include SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) like Prozac or Paxil.
- You may be asked to start taking an antidepressant before your symptoms begin (for many people, SAD starts in the fall). Your doctor may also suggest taking the antidepressant after your symptoms go away (for many people, this is in the springtime). Your doctor may also recommend a longer-term course of treatment.
- Understand that it can be a few weeks on an antidepressant before you notice any changes in your mood. Keep in mind that you and your doctor may also have to experiment with a few different antidepressants in order to find the most effective medication for you.
- If the idea of taking prescription medication doesn’t work for you, get tested for vitamin D deficiency, which affects many people with SAD. If appropriate, you may benefit from vitamin D supplementation
See a therapist. Psychotherapy can be beneficial for most people with seasonal affective disorder when used in conjunction with other treatments. Some thoughts and behavior can worsen symptoms, and a therapist can help you address these. Your therapist can also teach you some coping strategies and how to manage stress.
- Your therapist may use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques that help you identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making your symptoms worse.
- Ask your doctor for a referral to a therapist who specializes in SAD. You could also search online for a therapist near you, or ask for a referral through your community health agency.