Have you noticed that you or someone you care about experiences changes in mood or motivation around the same time every year? It’s normal to experience changes in emotional states and energy levels some days, especially as fall rolls into winter and the days become shorter. If those changes last for weeks or months at a time, however, the reason could be seasonal affective disorder (SAD), more commonly known as seasonal depression.
The Fundamentals of Seasonal Depression
Seasonal depression, clinically referred to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a manifestation of depression patterned around the changing of the seasons. It can occur during different times of the year but most commonly appears during late fall or early winter (as the days grow shorter) then goes away with the return of spring and summer. In other instances, symptoms may start in the spring or summer and resolve with the arrival of fall and winter. In both cases, though, it’s common for symptoms to intensify as the season progresses.
Seasonal Depression Symptoms
Some common indicators that someone may struggle with seasonal depression are:
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Disinterest in normal activities
- Changes in energy levels
- Irregular sleep patterns
- Fluctuations in appetite
- Difficulty focusing
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Again, when experienced on an interim basis, these symptoms alone do not necessarily indicate that the issue is seasonal depression. All the above can be a regular part of the human experience. Instead, when an individual faces these challenges for most of the day, nearly every day of the season, an underlying issue like seasonal depression may be the cause.
Seasonal Depression Treatment
If you believe you or someone you care about is struggling with seasonal depression, the next thing you’re probably wondering is how to cope with depression. It’s a natural part of the healing process to reach out for help, but many aren’t sure where to turn. For general depression, many people try to cope with it themselves or reach out to the family doctor for antidepressants.
Coping with seasonal depression is a little different, however, because the underlying causes may be slightly different. Research suggests that a change in seasons may lead to biochemical changes in the body, such as:
- Disruptions to circadian rhythms
- A drop in serotonin
- Melatonin imbalances
- A Vitamin D deficiency
As a result, treatment for seasonal depression often mirrors general depression treatment in relation to medication and psychotherapy but also incorporates specialized options like light therapy, diet improvement, and sleep management.
Do the seasons dictate your mood, motivation, and energy levels? Our dedicated specialists are here to help you understand if seasonal depression may play a role. Get in Touch
Winter SAD vs. Summer SAD
The two most common manifestations of seasonal depression are winter-onset SAD and summer-onset SAD. Winter-onset SAD, the more common of the two, generally begins in the fall and peaks during the depths of winter. Summer-onset SAD, on the other hand, often starts in the spring and peaks during the height of summer.
Symptoms of Winter-Onset Seasonal Depression
Along with the symptoms listed above, winter-onset depression is frequently characterized by:
- A craving for high-carb foods
- Weight gain
- Chronic fatigue
Symptoms of Summer-Onset Seasonal Depression
Symptoms specific to summer-onset depression are generally the opposite of those characterizing winter-onset depression:
- Reduced appetite
- Weight loss
- Agitation or violent behavior
Seasonal Changes and Bipolar States
For individuals struggling with a bipolar diagnosis or emotional dysregulation, it’s important to note that the changing of seasons can also trigger manic and depressive states. Spring and summer often bring about manic states, while fall and winter lead to depression. As a result, individuals with a bipolar diagnosis or emotional dysregulation are at a higher risk of experiencing seasonal depression.
Along with bipolar disorder, seasonal depression may also exist alongside:
For individuals dealing with seasonal depression on top of other mental issues, professional guidance and treatment is often the right path for healing.
How Can PCH Help?
If you or someone you care about struggles with mood and energy fluctuations during specific times of the year, there are options for leading a more balanced life every day of the year. If you’re ready to explore the next steps, get in touch with our caring specialists today.