The staff of the Knott County Center for Family Health (KCCFH) would like to remind you that this is the time of year when we see an increased number of patients with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). In most cases, SAD symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer. Symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.
Fall and winter SAD Symptoms
Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD, sometimes called winter depression, may include:
* Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
* Feeling hopeless or worthless
* Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
* Feeling sluggish, irritable or agitated
* Difficulty concentrating
* Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
* Tiredness, low energy or oversleeping
* Problems getting along with other people
* Hypersensitivity to rejection
* Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
* Weight gain or appetite changes, especially cravings for carbohydrates
The specific cause of SAD remains unknown. Some factors may include:
* Your biological clock (circadian rhythm)– Decreased sunlight may disrupt the internal clock, leading to depressive feelings.
* Serotonin levels– Reduced sunlight can cause levels to drop, triggering depression.
* Melatonin levels– The change in season can disrupt the balance of melatonin level that plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
Take signs and symptoms of SAD seriously. As with other types of depression, SAD can get worse and lead to problems if it’s not treated. These can include:
* Suicidal thoughts or behavior
* Social withdrawal
* School or work problems
* Substance abuse
When to see a doctor
It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed or if you feel hopeless, think about suicide, or turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation.
Treatments and drugs
Treatment for SAD may include light therapy, medications, and psychotherapy. If you have bipolar disorder, tell your doctor. This is critical to know when prescribing light therapy or an antidepressant. Both treatments can potentially trigger a manic episode.
Lifestyle changes, coping and support:
* Make your environment sunnier and brighter
* Get outside
* Exercise regularly
* Stick to your treatment plan
* Take care of yourself
* Practice stress management
* Take a trip
There’s no known way to prevent the development of SAD. However, if you take steps early on to manage symptoms, you may be able to prevent them from getting worse over time. Some people find it helpful to begin treatment before symptoms would normally start in the fall or winter, and then continue treatment past the time symptoms would normally go away. Other people need continuous treatment to prevent symptoms from returning. If you can get control of your symptoms before they get worse, you may be able to head off serious changes in mood, appetite and energy levels.
Call us at KCCFH (606.785.9377) to make an appointment or just simply walk into our office if you or someone in your care has any of the above symptoms. We have fast, friendly, and compassionate service to meet all of your healthcare needs. As well, Rebecca Combs, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), is available Tuesday through Friday to provide psychotherapy treatment, if needed.
Rebecca Combs is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) at the Knott County Center for Family Health.