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Seasonal affective disorder, also known as seasonal depression or fall depression, is a specific mood disorder whose symptoms appear cyclically, usually in the fall and winter period. Various aspects are taken into account as possible causes, but patients are usually most interested in how seasonal depression can be treated. In this case, not only pharmacotherapy can help, but also … light.

Seasonal affective disorder(also known as autumn depression, or SAD for short) was first described in the early 1980s. It was then that Norman E. Rosenthal and his team decided to take a closer look at the problem that he himself was experiencing - the researcher repeatedly struggled with depressed mood and other symptoms of mood disorders. Ultimately, in 1984, he first named and described seasonal affective disorder.

Seasonal depression is probably a much more common problem than you might imagine - according to statistics in the United States alone, 5% of adults may experience it. The symptoms of seasonal depression may appear in a person of any age, but most often the individual begins in 2-3. a decade of life. Seasonal affective disorder - for reasons not fully known - is much more common in women than in men.

Seasonal affective disorder (seasonal depression, SAD): causes

Fall depression can certainly be considered a rather interesting entity, and for this reason many scientists have undertaken research focused on searching for its possible causes. One of the theories is that the reduction in the number of sunny days in the autumn-winter period would be responsible for the symptoms of seasonal depression.

Less exposure to light, according to such theories, would result in disturbances of the circadian rhythm and this phenomenon would be responsible for the occurrence of seasonal symptoms specific for affective disorder.

Less exposure to sunlight may be associated with changes in the secretion of various substances in the body. In the autumn and winter period, the production of serotonin may be reducedthe body and this - according to some researchers - may be the cause of seasonal depression. The changes can also include the production and secretion of melatonin, which is responsible not only for regulating the rhythm of sleep and wakefulness, but also has some influence on the human mood.

Theories linking autumn depression with reduced exposure to sunlight may be confirmed by the fact that this unit is rarely found in people living in the equatorial zone, and it is much more common in people who live far from the equator.

The position of some researchers that the seasonal affective disorder should be in some way… natural can also be considered interesting. They postulate that in the autumn-winter period - that is, the time when access to, for example, food is difficult - many animals significantly reduce their activity, and some of them even fall asleep.

In such an approach, seasonal depression would result in a reduction in food consumption or limit reproduction until the conditions in the environment improve. Definitely such theories about the causes of seasonal depression can be considered controversial, but at the same time they are very interesting.

Seasonal affective disorder (seasonal depression, SAD): symptoms

The ailments that occur in patients with seasonal depression may generally correspond to those that occur in the course of a depressive episode. The problems that may be symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:

  • depressed mood,
  • energy loss,
  • anhedonia (inability to feel happiness - it can be recognized, among others, when things that previously enjoyed a given person suddenly become completely indifferent to them),
  • sleep disorders,
  • appetite disorders,
  • feeling anxious,
  • feeling worthless,
  • meditations on the meaning of life,
  • problems with concentration,
  • unjustified guilt.

All the above-mentioned possible symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can certainly make it very difficult for the patient to function, but it is also necessary to mention a problem that has not been mentioned so far.

Well, people with seasonal depression - similarly to patients with other types of depression - may have suicidal intentions or thoughts, which may cause the patient to commit suicide. It is this aspect that perfectly illustrates the fact that fall depression is not a trivial thing, but a serious problem that definitely requires treatment.

It's worth itIt should be emphasized here that, contrary to appearances, the symptoms of seasonal depression may appear not only in the autumn and winter period. The unit actually most often occurs in the colder months of the year, but some patients experience the opposite situation, where they appear in the spring and summer period.

Another important aspect is that in some patients with bipolar disorder there is a certain cyclicality in the phases that appear in them - it happens that in the colder months of the year they experience depressive symptoms, and in warmer periods they struggle with with hypomanic or manic symptoms.

Seasonal affective disorder (seasonal depression, SAD): diagnosis

If it is suspected that the patient may have seasonal depression, he should consult a psychiatrist. An individual can be recognized by identifying symptoms characteristic for him during a psychiatric examination and the fact that they appear cyclically in the patient in connection with specific seasons of the year.

Psychiatric examination is aimed not only at confirming seasonal affective disorder, but also at excluding other possible causes of the symptoms experienced by the patient. The differential diagnosis should take into account, inter alia, recurrent depressive disorders, bipolar disorder, dysthymia and generalized anxiety disorders.

Sometimes a patient leaves a psychiatric office with referrals to other specialists. This is the case when there is a significant suspicion that his symptoms may result from some somatic disorders - among individuals that may result in ailments similar to seasonal affective disorder, one can mention, among others, hypothyroidism or significant anemia.

Seasonal affective disorder (seasonal depression, SAD): treatment

Seasonal depression is distinguished from other types of depression not only by the cyclicality of its symptoms, but also by what treatment is used in affected patients. The use here is primarily for phototherapy.

This method is based on the fact that the patient uses special phototherapy devices (not ordinary light bulbs), in front of which he sits - initially every day - for several dozen minutes.

Phototherapy is an interesting method of treating seasonal depression, because it has no side effects, and it can be an effective way to eliminate the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

Initially, as mentioned above, treatments are usedevery day, then - after improvement - usually maintenance treatment is used, which consists of using phototherapy devices every few days.

Treatment of seasonal depression may also involve the use of methods known in the treatment of other types of depression. We are talking about pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy. In the case of the former, antidepressants are used, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (e.g. fluoxetine, sertraline or paroxetine) and bupropion.

Interestingly, some doctors advise patients with previously diagnosed seasonal affective disorder to start using them shortly before the fall-winter period - they explain their position by the fact that these drugs only start working after some time, so their early inclusion is to prevent the occurrence of fall depression symptoms.

Patients who experience fall depression can also be recommended other methods that can improve their well-being. Regular physical activity is beneficial, as well as frequent - even in the colder months of the year - going for walks.

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