Fall Means a Rise in Seasonal Affective Disorder

When fall arrives, bringing with it chilly temperatures and shorter days, many people find themselves feeling a little glum.  For some people, however, this time of year is when their depression peaks and when other people are preparing for the upcoming holidays, they can barely get out of bed.  Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression that is affected by the changes of the seasons.

The symptoms usually begin to occur when fall arrives and winter begins to set in.  The hours of daylight become fewer and the cold weather forces us to stay cooped up inside more.  Some people do feel symptoms in spring and into summer but these cases are much less common.

Symptoms

The symptoms for SAD are:

  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Low energy
  • Sleep problems
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Feeling tired and sluggish
  • Feeling agitated
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

The symptoms associated with fall/winter SAD vary from spring/summer SAD.  Sufferers from fall/winter SAD may oversleep, have an increased craving for carbs, weight gain, and low energy.  Spring/summer SAD is nearly the opposite with sufferers that may have insomnia, poor appetite, weight loss, and agitation or anxiety.  

Causes

The exact cause of SAD has not been determined but it is believed to be caused by:

  • Disruption in a person’s circadian rhythm, their “biological clock” due to less sunlight.
  • Reduction in serotonin levels due to less sunlight
  • Disruption of melatonin levels in the body due to less sunlight.

People are diurnal.  We rise and set with the sun.  When we can’t do this, we get depressed.  People who work night shifts tend to be more depressed than those who work during the day because their bodies aren’t able to make Vitamin D from the sun’s rays.

Factors

Like most disorders, there are factors that make one person more susceptible to SAD than others:

  • Age―more common in younger adults than older adults
  • Sex―more common in women than men
  • Family history―more common in blood relatives
  • Having Major Depressive Disorder―symptoms may become worse at this time.
  • Proximity to the Equator―the closer that you live from the Equator, the more likely you are to suffer from SAD.

As with most disorders and illnesses, early diagnosis and treatment are the keys to a successful recovery.  Diagnosis may include a physical exam, lab tests, and a psychological evaluation.  

Treatments

Treatments for SAD may vary.  Light therapy consists of sitting in front of a lightbox after getting out of bed in the morning to convince your brain that you’re getting natural light.  Medications may be used such as anti-depressants but should be begun a few weeks before symptoms typically appear. Psychotherapy can be used to treat SAD and patients have also found relief with yoga, meditation, music, and other relaxation techniques.  

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation therapy is a treatment that may be used to treat all forms of severe depression when medications don’t work.  It’s a non-invasive therapy that uses magnets to stimulate areas of the brain. It is a well-tolerated therapy with mild side effects that usually lessen over time.  Side effects include headaches, scalp discomfort, tingling in facial muscles, and lightheadedness. There is a risk of seizures, mania, or hearing loss but these side effects are rare.

While TMS is not for people with mild depression, if you suffer from Major Depressive Disorder whether that has developed into Seasonal Affective Disorder, TMS may provide relief from your symptoms of depression.  

At Gateway TMS, we provide our patients with a calm, relaxing environment to receive their TMS treatments.  Our caring staff will guide you through the process from diagnoses to treatment to filling out insurance forms to ensure the best possible care for you.

To find out if TMS is a good course of treatment for your Major Depressive Disorder, call Gateway today at (314) 909-8487.  We’re here to help.