Mayo Clinic: Is seasonal affective disorder considered
depression? If so, should I be treated for it year-round even
though it comes and goes?
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression.
Year-round treatment with medication for SAD may be
recommended in some cases. But research has shown that, for
many people with a history of SAD, treatment with a light box
beginning in early fall can be useful in preventing SAD.
Medication starting at that time may be helpful, too.
SAD is a
type of depression that primarily affects people during the
fall and winter months. The lower levels of sunlight in the
winter and fall, particularly in locations farther from the
equator, can disturb your internal clock. This disruption may
lead to feelings of depression. The change in seasons also can
influence your bodyís melatonin and serotonin ó natural
substances that play a role in sleep timing and mood. When
combined, these factors may lead to SAD.
more than just feeling blue as the days get shorter or having
the doldrums in January. Instead, it involves persistent,
pervasive symptoms of depression during wintertime. Those
symptoms may include feeling sad, angry or easily irritable
most of the day nearly every day, lack of interest in
activities you usually enjoy, difficulty concentrating,
persistent tiredness, lack of energy and, in some cases,
feeling that life isnít worth living or having suicidal
with SAD often feel the need to sleep considerably more than
usual. SAD generally causes people to want to eat more, too,
and they often gain weight. Carbohydrate cravings are common.
SAD symptoms may get worse as winter progresses. By
definition, the symptoms fade as daylight lengthens during
treatments for SAD are available. Light box therapy is
particularly useful. Light boxes mimic outdoor light by
emitting a broad-spectrum ultraviolet light. The most common
prescription is 30 minutes of light box use at the beginning
of every morning, with the box 12 to 24 inches away. The
intensity of the light box is recorded in lux, which is a
measure of the amount of light you receive at a specific
distance from a light source. The recommended intensity of the
light typically is 10,000 lux.
people use light boxes while getting ready for the day,
reading the paper or having breakfast. Again, starting light
box therapy in early autumn may help prevent SAD from
developing during the winter months.
also may be part of treatment for SAD. The antidepressant
medication bupropion has been approved by the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration for the prevention of SAD. Other
antidepressant medications may be effective, as well. These
medications can be helpful for people who have a pattern of
SAD and know that they are predisposed to developing it. If
youíve had SAD in the past, starting to take medication in
early fall before the days get significantly shorter may
prevent SAD symptoms or, if symptoms do appear, it can reduce
their length and severity.
are some self-care steps you can take all year long that may
help reduce your risk of SAD, too. They include exercising
regularly, maintaining healthy sleep habits and a predictable
sleep/wake cycle, eating a healthy diet and limiting the
amount of sugary foods you eat.
addition, going outside on sunny days can make a difference.
In the winter, when snow is on the ground, clear days can be
brilliantly bright. Exposure to that natural sunlight can help
ease SAD. Psychotherapy recently has been found to be
effective for SAD, as well. The treatment that has shown the
most success for prevention and treatment is cognitive
behavioral therapy for SAD, or CBT-SAD.
been diagnosed with SAD in the past or you suspect you have
it, talk to your doctor about prevention and treatment
options. Even if SAD canít always be prevented, there are
treatments available that can help you successfully manage
your symptoms and make the winter months easier to take.