Service members in the north are more likely to experience this seasonal form of depression
Faced with the reality of less sunlight, coupled with colder weather, some service members in northern latitudes may experience an autumnal/winter phenomenon known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which is more common that you might think. In fact, as many as half a million Americans may suffer from winter depression, with approximately 10 to 20 percent of the population experiencing mild traits of SAD. This condition appears to be more common in women than in men.
Symptoms of SAD
Symptoms generally begin to appear in the fall with the time change and gradually get worse until April, when the time change reoccurs. Some of the common symptoms of SAD, according to familydoctor.org, include:
- A change in appetite, especially a craving for sweet or starchy foods
- Weight gain
- A heavy feeling in the arms or legs
- A drop in energy level
- A tendency to oversleep or problems falling asleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased sensitivity to social rejection
- Avoidance of social situations
If you have four or more of these symptoms, you may suffer from SAD. It is important to remember that they often occur in tandem and therefore should be viewed collectively. However, it’s equally important to consult your physician to rule out other causes that may mimic SAD.
When left untreated, SAD can worsen. Some people have reported the following as being helpful:
Light therapy: You sit in front of a specially made light box for a certain length of time daily. Generally, light therapy takes about 30 minutes daily throughout the fall and winter, when you’re most likely to be depressed. Light boxes can be found online through various retailers, including eBay. FYI: Tanning beds are not considered true “light therapy” or an effective treatment for SAD, as the bulbs they use are different than bright light boxes.
Physical activity: Small changes in your level of physical activity can bring more energy and motivation for important daily activities. Check with your doctor first before starting any activities that require physical exertion. If you are cleared, then consider light aerobic exercise, such as walking or using a treadmill.
Talk therapy: Meeting with a therapist to talk about your feelings of depression and anxiety and lack of energy can sometimes lessen the symptoms. Plus, a therapist trained in working with SAD may be able to offer useful coping tools.
Antidepressants: There are a wide variety of antidepressants available to treat SAD. After speaking to your physician, he or she may prescribe something to help alleviate your symptoms.
Help is available
SAD is a recognized mental health condition by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association. Many clinicians are familiar with the signs and symptoms of SAD and can help patients cope with and work through this seasonal pattern of depression.
Remember that SAD is a form of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and that receiving treatment is important to ongoing wellness. If you are concerned that your depression is causing you to think about hurting yourself or others, seek out medical or psychiatric attention immediately.
About the Author
Dr. John Moore is a licensed mental health counselor and board certified addictions counselor. He is Professor of Health Sciences in the School of Public Health at American Public University and is a counselor in private practice.