Western Kentucky University

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder:

 

Anyone can feel a little "down" or sluggish in the winter when it's dark and too cold to be outdoors much. However, some people experience a severe depression, which recurs every winter and abates as the year turns toward summer. It is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

SAD can occur in the summer, but it usually strikes in the winter months and in colder climates. In fact, you are about seven times more likely to suffer from SAD if you live in New Hampshire than if you live in Florida!

What does SAD feel like?

A diagnosis can be made after three or more consecutive winters of symptoms including a number of the following:

• A desire to oversleep
• Lethargy
• Craving carbohydrates and sweets (usually resulting in weight gain)
• Irritability and social isolation
• Tension and reduced tolerance for stress
• Decreased interest in sex and physical contact
• Mood changes in spring and autumn

Who is most likely to get SAD?

Risk factors include:

• Living far from the equator
• Limited light exposure
• Being young (onset of SAD often occurs between 18 and 30 years of age) or female
• Being predisposed toward clinical depression

What causes SAD?

SAD has been linked to a biochemical imbalance brought on by the lack of sunlight in winter, which has the following effects:

• Melatonin (sleep hormone) decreases when its light
• Serotonin (hormone associated with elevated mood) increases when it's light
• Vitamin D helps the body maintain levels of serotonin during the winter
• Light stimulates the production of cholecalciferol, which the body eventually transforms into vitamin D

What can I do to prevent SAD?

• Keep a regular routine
• Have a regular pattern of sleep (and get enough sleep)
• Increase your exposure to light
• Exercise regularly
• Eat properly
• Have fun!

What should I do if I think I might have SAD?

• Increase your exposure to light, sunshine or photo-therapy
• The NEC Wellness Center provides counseling for students seeking help with SAD or with any other kind of depression. Please stop by or call 428-2253 for an appointment with a counselor

Helpful Links:

Seasonal Affective Disorder, What It Is and How to Overcome It
Q & A on Bright Light Therapy

 Last Modified 7/22/13