Seasonal Affective Disorder

Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a health concern for many at this time of the year. “SAD is a type of depression, but it’s cyclical and goes with the seasons and you must experience it for at least two years in a row,” explained Bayhealth Family Medicine Physician Joseph Parise, DO. “There are actually two types, but the one that occurs from fall to spring is more commonly known.”

Dr. Parise says signs and symptoms of SAD include feeling worthless, not having any energy or feeling sluggish, having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, eating more or less than usual, losing motivation, not being able to focus, craving carbs, and gaining weight.

“Women are four times more likely to have SAD and children, teens, and younger adults are also prone to it,” said Dr. Parise. “Those who live further away from the equator are also at greater risk since there’s less sunlight in these areas.”

Other risk factors include a family history of depression, having existing depression or bipolar disorder, and not having enough serotonin or having too much melatonin. Some research also suggests vitamin D deficiency is a factor. SAD can get worse and other problems may develop if it’s left untreated, including social withdrawal, school/work problems, substance abuse, eating disorders, anxiety issues, worsening of existing depression, and suicidal thoughts.

The main treatment for SAD is light therapy, which involves sitting in front of a light box for 20 to 60 minutes each day from the fall until the springtime. “Basically, you’re trying to mimic the energy and wavelength of the sun,” explained Dr. Parise. “That’s why the recommended type of light is 10,000 lux of cool white fluorescent, which is like natural sunlight. Going outside when it’s sunny is also a good idea.”

Other SAD treatments include psychotherapy, more specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy where you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, doing activities and hobbies you enjoy, medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and vitamin D. Psychotherapy and SSRIs are particularly helpful for severe cases of SAD says Dr. Parise.

If you think you may have SAD, you should talk with your doctor. If you need help finding a doctor, visit Bayhealth's Find a Doctor page or call 1-866-BAY-DOCS (229-3627).