Understanding seasonal affective disorder

Understanding seasonal affective disorder

When Daylight Saving’ s Time ended at the beginning of this month, millions of people turned their clocks back one hour. Few take as much pleasure turning the clocks back in autumn as much as they enjoy turning them forward in spring.

The explanation for that is simple–turning the clocks forward affords many people, in particular working professionals who spend much of their weekdays working indoors, a chance to enjoy some sunlight when leaving their offices each day. However, once the clocks are turned back, professionals typically find themselves leaving their offices under a cover of darkness.

Some people easily adjust to less daylight, while others experience a condition known as season affective disorder, or SAD. SAD is a disorder related to changes in seasons. According to the Mayo Clinic, the majority of people with SAD begin to experience symptoms in the fall and continue battling those symptoms throughout the winter. The end of Daylight Saving Time occurs in early November, and the onset of SAD symptoms is no doubt related to the decreased exposure to daylight many people experience once clocks have been turned back. Those who suspect they might be susceptible to SAD can get a better grasp of the condition so they are capable of recognizing and responding to it should any symptoms appear.

What is SAD?

Mental Health America, a leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness, defines SAD as a mood disorder associated with depression and related to seasonal variations of light. Though many people may be saddened when the clocks are turned back and the sun sets earlier than it does in the warmer months, MHA notes that a diagnosis of SAD can only be made after the symptoms of SAD have appeared for three consecutive winters and have gone into remission once spring and summer have arrived.

What are the symptoms
of SAD?

Simply feeling bummed out that winter is on the horizon does not mean a person has SAD. The following are some of the more common symptoms of the disorder:

  • Depression marked by feelings of misery, guilt, hopelessness, despair, and apathy. A loss of self-esteem may also occur.
  • Feelings of anxiety that include tension and an inability to tolerate stress
  • Mood changes that are sometimes extreme; some SAD sufferers experience feelings of mania in spring and summer.
  • Changes in sleeping habits, such as a desire to oversleep and difficulty staying awake. Some people may experience disturbed sleep and find themselves waking up in early morning when they are unaccustomed to doing so.
  • Feelings of fatigue and an inability to adhere to one’s normal routine


Who is most likely
to suffer from SAD?

The Mayo Clinic notes that SAD is diagnosed more often in women than in men, and MHA notes that three out of four SAD sufferers are women. Young people are more likely than older people to get winter SAD, with MHA reporting that the main age of onset of SAD is between 18 and 30. Symptoms of SAD may worsen among people who have already been diagnosed with clinical depression or bipolar disorder.

More information about seasonal affective disorder is available at www.mentalhealthamerica.net.



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