Seasonal Affective Disorder - SAD

by Sharon Hopkins

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a condition where a person who is mentally healthy suffers from mood swings during a particular time of year. Typically, SAD affects people in the colder months of the year, mainly the winters and is represented by increased depression and associated symptoms. SAD can occur at other times of the year as well and is diagnosed if there is a repetitive depression in the patients' mood over consecutive years. SAD is diagnosed when a person suffers from depressive episodes. These depressive episodes must occur at a particular time of year and must not occur at any other time in the year. A confirmed SAD diagnosis also requires the person to otherwise suffer from no depressive episodes. A person who slips in and out of depressive phases is likely to be suffering from another condition and not from SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder is known to be prevalent in areas that have marked winter periods where the weather and the surrounding environment changes drastically from other seasons. SAD is quite common in places that have prolonged winters, snowy conditions, and those that have extremely long periods of nighttime darkness due to their extremely northern or southern latitude. For this reason, Nordic nations tend to report higher rates of Seasonal Affective Disorder than other nations.

Seasonal Affective Disorder has been linked to the production of a particular hormone known as melatonin. Melatonin is one of the components responsible for a person's sleep and waking cycles. Melatonin production is at its highest during the middle of the night. People who are exposed to light may suffer from insufficient melatonin production. It has also been noted that people who suffer from SAD may go on to developing other mood disorders such as bipolar disorder which is characterized by extreme phases of 'high' moods and depressed moods.

Treatments targeted at Seasonal Affective Disorder include light therapy where a light is placed in front of the patient who is made to sit at a specified distance from the light. Another technique that is rapidly gaining popularity is the technique of dawn simulation. This makes the person's body believe that the dawn has broken which results in a change in the circadian rhythm of the body that has been shown to have a positive effect on the SAD condition. Some patients who have particularly severe episodes of depression may be treated with medications such as serotonin uptake inhibitors.

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