Mental Health Monday: Seasonal Affective Disorder… Is it Legit?

Last Thursday, I discussed the “Winter Downward Spiral.” This is something that is completely logical and understandable as we face colder temperatures and we are inconvenienced and uncomfortable. But… can this downward spiral… these winter woes… winter blues… cold weather funks… become more serious?

When the winter blues become clinically significant, it is considered to be Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD… such an appropriate acronym!!) But there are many people out there who are unsure if SAD is a real condition OR if it is just some exaggeration of feeling down in the dumps just because it is cold.

My guess is that people who go through winter are more likely to understand how SAD is a realistic possibility! I think it would be interesting to do a survey to see what parts of the populations consider SAD to be a realistic clinical diagnosis. But… I digress…

SAD has been an official diagnosis since 1984. At this time, there were studies that being treated with bright/environmental light therapy would improve depression symptoms. Much more research has been done in the mean time.

There are likely a variety of reasons for the onset of SAD. One major factor is that there is simply less day light and our circadian rhythm is thrown off. Circadian rhythm is based on light; it is why we get tired when it is dark out. Our body begins to produce melatonin when it gets dark, which makes us sleepy. When it starts getting dark at 4:30 pm… of course we will feel more sluggish! Winter is also a time where the much of the animal kingdom is preparing to hibernate or to store up body fat to endure the winter. Do humans do this as well? Is that part of the reason for our eating more fatty and rich foods that “stick to your ribs” during the winter? Also, are we more irritable because we are forced to stay inside more and have more conflict because we are simply spending more time with people inside?

Do you see the controversy?

Regardless of the cause or the reason behind what is going on, if one’s mood, energy, and level of self-care is declining to a point that is clinically significant or having a significant negative impact on day-to-day living… then whatever is going on needs to be addressed and taken seriously. Why not refer to it as Seasonal Affective Disorder? Does the labeling really need to be an issue if it will give people the help they need to make it through this season with higher quality of life?

Please, get the help and treatment you need this winter. It could be as simple as getting yourself a special light that mimics sunlight. It could be making sure to make good food choices. It could be finding ways to stay active, despite the cold. Maybe you need a seasonal alternation to your current medication dosage (as your doctor). Or perhaps, you need to realize that someone you care for has a legitimate need and you can help facilitate those needs, now that you know it is a reality. Of course, counseling and/or therapy is also a great resource that anyone could benefit from.

So… what is your action plan for fighting the winter blues OR Seasonal Affective Disorder this year? Comment below!

Some information was reaffirmed and gathered from: http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/biology/b103/f02/web2/kbailey.html

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