It’s common to feel a little down every now and then, but for some, mood changes are more serious and occur as the seasons change. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) develops as a result of sunlight variations, which change with the season. The most common time of the year for seasonal affective disorder to occur is during the winter months when there is the least amount of sunlight. According to Mental Health America, over half a million people are affected by seasonal affective disorder each winter. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, such as those listed below, is essential in order to get proper treatment.
According to the Mayo Clinic, mood disturbances are the primary symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Symptoms often start in the fall or winter as the amount of sunlight decreases. It is common for people affected by the disorder to develop symptoms around the same time each year. The severity of mood changes may vary from mild to severe. In some cases, symptoms can interfere with the ability to function normally. Some common mood disturbances associated with SAD are:
Appetite changes are common with many types of mood disorders including seasonal affective disorder. Some people may experience an increase in appetite and crave carbohydrate rich foods, such as rice, potatoes and bread, according to the Mayo Clinic. For others, the opposite happens, and they have a decrease in appetite. Because appetite levels often change, weight loss or weight gain is also a common sign of seasonal affective disorder.
Along with emotional problems and mood changes, physical problems may also develop. Physical symptoms can vary in intensity and may get worse over time. The combination of physical symptoms and mood changes often impacts a person’s quality of life. Common physical problems include the following:
Additional signs and symptoms may also develop in some instances. It is not unusual for individuals with seasonal affective disorder to have trouble concentrating or focusing on work and family responsibilities. Many people will also have a change in libido. Although usually a loss of interest in sex occurs, a small percentage of people develop an increase in sex drive. Increased sex drive is often more likely to occur with summer onset seasonal affective disorder.
Withdrawing socially is also a common symptom of the disorder. Those affected may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, stop seeing friends as often and shy away from conversation. Withdrawing socially often can make feelings of hopelessness and depression worse.
Although seasonal affective disorder can be difficult to cope with, there are effective treatments available. Light therapy is one of the most common treatments used. According to Mental Health America, bright light therapy is effective in about 85 percent of people with seasonal affective disorder. Medication, such as antidepressants, may also be useful if light therapy does not help. Although counseling may help someone recognize symptoms and develop coping skills, it is usually not the only treatment recommended. By recognizing symptoms and seeking treatment, seasonal affective disorder can be successfully treated.