Seasonal depression, also called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or winter depression, is a depression recurring each year at the same time. It usually starts in the fall, worsens in winter and if untreated, generally resolves by spring. Symptoms are sadness, fatigue, lack of energy, withdrawal from social activity, loss of sex drive, increased sleep, increased appetite, carbohydrate craving, and weight gain. Less commonly, there is a spring-summer onset depression that starts in spring or summer and if left untreated, remits during the following fall or winter.
The symptoms of seasonal depression are similar to major depressive disorder, but the key difference is that symptoms occur in certain seasons and resolve in certain seasons. People sometimes think of seasonal depression as the ‘holiday blues.’ Holiday blues happen when a person has low spirits and is stressed during the holiday season. Seasonal depression is a clinical depression that is a result of chemical imbalances. Holiday blues is strictly situational and resolves at the end of the holiday.
When we discuss depression, we often talk about triggers. Unfortunately, the exact cause of SAD is not known. The cause is thought to be related to changes in seasonal daylight. We do know that less sunlight triggers depression. In general, both depression and seasonal depression are more common in females, those living at higher altitudes, people who move to higher latitudes, and younger adults (typical onset is age 20-30). About four to six percent of people may have winter depression. Major depression is more common, and it affects about 20% of the population every year.
Steps to Take
If you’re experiencing the symptoms of seasonal depression and they are interfering with your home and/or work life, I recommend seeing your physician. Treatment with light therapy, medication and/or cognitive-behavioral therapy can improve symptoms. Milder symptoms may not interfere with home or work life. With milder symptoms, melatonin may improve sleep and well-being.
If you’re experiencing the symptoms of seasonal or major depression, don’t wait. Schedule an appointment with your physician today to talk through your options. To schedule a consultation with Dr. Baker at CHI Memorial Chattanooga Internal Medicine Associates, call (423) 495-2690.