I don’t know about you, but I usually associate Seasonal Affective Disorder with… Wintertime! However, July 24, AKA the middle of summer, is National Seasonal Affective Disorder Day—and, as I have already learned, some people with the condition experience decreased mood starting in early summer!  Like Seasonal Affective Disorder Awareness day being in summertime, I guess another of those somewhat “cruel” ironies is the acronym for Seasonal Affective Disorder being SAD… Despite these slightly off-beat realizations, Seasonal Affective Disorder is anything but a joke. Fortunately, for people who experience the disorder which causes mood decline at certain times in the year, commonly late Fall or early Winter, or early Summer, Seasonal Affective Disorder can be managed if properly diagnosed.
What are the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
If you commonly notice you get the “winter blues” or hit a “summer slump” every year, these may be hints pointing toward Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is usually fairly mild, but can also result in more serious depression at these times of year. Being properly diagnosed and treated, means that you may experience less mood drop-offs. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a “subtype” of major depression, and can range from mild symptoms to severe ones.
Symptoms are different in the spring/summer variations of SAD and the fall/winter type. At this time of year, in July, a person may experience depression, be unable to sleep or sleep less than they need, have poor appetite and lose weight, and experience anxiety or feel agitated/wound up . In the winter variation, more classic depression symptoms can be evident—irritability, low-energy, sluggishness, or feeling tired, difficulty getting along with others or being anti-social, oversleeping, and weight gain . Weight-gain may be induced by unusual appetite—either greater or decreased, and often, developing a craving for carbohydrates.  In both cases, major depressive symptoms may develop. If a person, diagnosed or not, experiences suicidal thoughts or ideation, or has plans to commit suicide, they need to be seen by a mental health professional immediately.
How is Seasonal Affective Disorder treated?
If you are concerned you may have SAD or depression, and are worried your symptoms go beyond normal “off days” where you just don’t feel like yourself, it is important to see your doctor. Seasonal Affective Disorder is treated much like any other form of depression, but with one potential added therapy. Treatment may include counselling or therapy and medication, as like other forms of depression, however in some individuals with SAD that starts each Fall, light therapy may help. [1.1] Per the Mayo Clinic, light therapy “mimics natural outdoor light”, and can impact your mood by altering brain chemicals for the better. [1.1] These special lights can be expensive, so it is important to ensure this is an appropriate therapy for you to try—not all people are candidates for light therapy, including those with eye problems like glaucoma or cataracts, or people with bipolar disorder . I learned recently (and by accident!) that my local public library has SAD light boxes for people to try in four city libraries —check to see if your public library or health clinic offers a similar service!
With appropriate therapy, people with Seasonal Affective Disorder can often manage their symptoms. For those living with SAD or depression, a medical ID bracelet can communicate medical needs and medications in an emergency.