As the days get shorter and colder, it’s not uncommon to experience changes in mood or activity. For some, these feelings can come and go without interfering with their daily lives. For others, they may experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD, pronounced S-A-D), a type of diagnosable depression.
SAD typically affects people from late fall through winter and can return every year. David Diaz, MD, DLFAPA, FACLP, is a board-certified psychiatrist and consultant for Indiana’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction who shared his insights on SAD. He says that people with SAD are much more impacted by their depression than those with a case of the “winter blues,” “I think we all are subject to mood changes based on the calendar, weather, the time change, but folks with seasonal affective disorder have a significantly hard time functioning.”
Some signs and symptoms of SAD include:
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Trouble doing tasks like laundry or getting to work
- Experiencing changes in appetite or weight
- Trouble sleeping – sleeping too much or not enough
- Having low energy
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
- Social withdrawal
The inability to function and the impact SAD has on people can be similar to major depression. People with SAD can also experience bipolar-like symptoms where individuals can experience depressive lows.
Dr. Diaz stressed that SAD is a significant disorder that can really affect one’s day-to-day life, “A lot of diseases have a spectrum, but a common misunderstanding is that seasonal affective disorder is nothing serious.”
For those with less intense symptoms of SAD there are some things you can try at home:
- Find a hobby
- Take a trip (if possible)
- Increase light access
- Get adequate sleep
- Take a vitamin D supplement
- Use sun lamp (for short periods of time, in the mornings only)
“When seasonal affective disorder begins to affect your function, you should really contact your physician. It’s really something you need to address,” Dr. Diaz said. If you don’t have a physician or don’t know where to start, call 2-1-1 to be connected with mental health professionals in your area. Indiana 211’s referrals and consultation are free and completely confidential. Dr. Diaz emphasized, “One of the biggest tragedies of major depression is thinking it’s not treatable and not seeking help.”
To be able to focus on mental health, your basic needs (shelter, food, clothing, health care, etc.) must be met first. Indiana 211 is a free, safe and confidential way to connect to resources from around the state and in your community.
If you need support, call 2-1-1. The resources on Indiana 211 are updated weekly to provide the most accurate services.