The short answer to the topic question is kind. Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is now considered a specifier in the DSM-5 of Recurrent Major Depression. It is not a diagnosis on its own and it requires the individual to have a regular temporal relationship between the onset of major depressive episodes in major depressive disorder and a particular time of the year (fall or winter). Many individuals think that they may be in a seasonal episode of depression if they are feeling less motivated, moody, and bad days are more prominent. These however are not the only symptoms of SAD.
Seasonal episodes of depression are often found in the colder seasons as the time changes and the days are limited in regards to daylight. The symptoms surrounding a seasonal pattern of depression include:
Less energy: It is important to distinguish if an individual seems to have more energy in the warmer seasons such as spring and summer. The limited daylight hours could be causing something to change in the individual’s biological clock.
Hypersomnia: Hypersomnia refers to a medical condition in which someone could persistently feel excessively tired during the day or may sleep longer than usual at night. Hypersomnia may cause a person to fall asleep during the day, often at work or during a meal. The excessive naps can cause no relief to the depression and can cause the individual to struggle with daily functioning.
Overeating: Overeating can often be the direct result of lack of sleep, oversleeping, feeling like the person’s biological clock is all over the place. Not having a natural sense of time and feeling cold often correlates with overeating or giving into cravings.
Weight gain and craving for Carbohydrates: Weight gain and craving more carbohydrates can also be caused by the individual’s feelings of depression as their depression could cause them to not want to leave their home. Not leaving the home can lead people to order in and also cause them to exercise less as there is no motivation to go out if daytime is limited.
How to minimize the effects of seasonal episodes?
Seasonal depressive episodes can be reduced by encouraging the individual to see their doctor and perhaps get a physical and discuss the mood and functional impairments. Oftentimes, individuals who struggle with this often have altering neurotransmitter levels. The individual could implement more exercise when the light is out. Going on walks and getting fresh air as well as sunlight can help minimize the intensity of the symptoms. Lastly, it is important that SUNLIGHT is prioritized. It sounds very simple and it actually is because all it takes is opening a window. Getting some vitamin D can make a major difference to the amount of sadness and the darkness that takes over when the light is limited.
It is also very important to attempt to find a therapist who can help support any individual going through seasonal depressive episodes to improve daily functioning.