What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Do you feel moody, tired, or overwhelmed during specific times of the year? If so, you may suffer from a mental health issue that plagues millions of Americans: seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Although it remains widely misunderstood, awareness of this problem is on the rise. The sooner you can identify it and seek help, the easier you’ll find it to get through the year’s most miserable seasons.

Signs And Symptoms

SAD symptoms can vary dramatically from one person to the next, to the point that the timing of the disorder is often more indicative than the symptoms themselves. Issues typically arrive in late fall and disappear by spring, although summer-onset SAD is also possible.

Common complaints include:

  • Loss of interest in activities that spark passion the rest of the year.
  • Sleeping issues such as insomnia and excessive sleep.
  • Sudden changes in weight or appetite, including sudden cravings for carbohydrates.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness.
  • Thoughts of self-harm, death, or suicide.

Treatment Options

An increasing array of treatment options offer hope to those suffering from SAD. Light therapy (sometimes referred to as phototherapy) is a top option, as it is simple and fairly affordable. This unique solution involves the use of a light box, which is believed to trigger positive changes in the brain chemicals associated with various moods.

While light therapy is often a go-to solution for those with winter-based SAD, it doesn’t work for everybody. Some patients respond better to antidepressant medications, such as the extended-release version of bupropion. Typically, doctors prescribe medications shortly before the expected onset of symptoms, as several weeks may pass before antidepressants take full effect.