The cold temperatures and dreary days that often occur during the winter months can often bring about feelings of depression for many Tennesseans. These feelings may be caused by a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).It is now estimated that about five (5) percent of the population suffers from SAD – this is the equivalent of approximately 317,000 Tennesseans, based on a 2010 U.S. Census state population of 6,346,105. SAD is four times more common in women than in men, but when it is present, men likely have more severe symptoms. Young adults are also more likely to suffer from SAD, but it is uncommon in people under 20.
“There is no test for SAD, so it’s important for anyone who is feeling that they may be depressed to speak with their behavioral health care provider as soon as possible,” says E. Douglas Varney, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS). “This is a very serious, very real condition, and people shouldn’t try to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs – either illegal drugs or prescription drugs – to deal with it on their own.”
SAD is a mood disorder that follows a seasonal pattern related to variations in sunlight. Symptoms of SAD are often similar to those of other forms of depression, and often can include:
Feeling sad, grumpy, moody, anxious, or depressed
Losing interest in usual activities
Eating either more or less, and craving sugary or starchy foods
Sleeping more and feeling drowsy during the daytime
Avoiding social situations
If a person experiences these symptoms, a mental health expert can accurately diagnose SAD so that treatment options can be explored. Symptoms are often triggered by a lack of exposure to light and tend to drastically decrease, and even go away completely, when light increases. Lack of light can upset a person’s sleep-wake cycle and other circadian rhythms, and can cause problems with the production of serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood.
“Without treatment, symptoms can improve with the changing of seasons,” says Dr. Howard Burley, TDMHSAS Medical Director. “But with treatment, symptoms can improve much more quickly, and people can return to living their so-called ‘normal’ life.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), SAD is characterized by recurrent episodes of depression, usually in late fall and winter, alternating with periods of normal or high mood the rest of the year. Also, some people with bipolar disorder can also have seasonal changes in their mood and experience acute episodes in a recurrent fashion at different times of the year. For more information on NAMI, go online to namitn.org or call (615) 361-6608.