The World Health Organization’s definition of health is “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Our advanced primary care model includes behavioral health — it cannot be treated as a separate issue from physical health.

That can’t be more true when discussing seasonal affective disorder, also known simply as SAD. It will be here sooner than you may think. SAD interferes with life for 1 out of 20 Americans every winter. A type of depression related to seasonal change and day length, SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. It can be aggravated by events in a person’s daily life and by events occurring in the world at large, like COVID-19 and social discord.

For most people who experience SAD, symptoms begin in the fall and last through the winter. A small minority experience SAD-related depression in the spring or early summer. Some people with bipolar disorder can experience depression in the fall and winter, and manic or hypomanic symptoms in the spring and summer. You are at greater risk for SAD if you have been diagnosed with major depression or bipolar disorder, have relatives who have experienced  SAD, or if you live far from the equator.


It’s not your fault

The cause of seasonal affective disorder has yet to be identified. It appears to start with your circadian rhythm — your biological clock. Reduced sunlight disrupts melatonin levels, affecting your sleep and causes a drop in serotonin levels, triggering depression. In short, SAD is a combined physical and emotional response to a natural cycle caused by the Earth’s position around the sun. It is out of anyone’s personal control and shouldn’t be dismissed as “winter blues.”

Sometimes difficult to diagnose, SAD symptoms can mimic major depression — sleep disruptions, loss of interest or motivation, low energy, difficulty concentrating, changes in diet and appetite, and more. As with other forms of depression, if not treated, it can lead to complications like social withdrawal, school or work issues, substance abuse, anxiety — even suicidal thoughts or behaviors.


Finding a ray of hope in the darkness

SAD treatments include phototherapy (light therapy), medications such as antidepressants, talk therapy, and mindfulness practices. Patients who have been diagnosed as bipolar need to advise their care providers since some treatments can trigger manic episodes.

If SAD symptoms seem personally familiar to you, it’s time to take charge of your behavioral health. All it takes is a conversation with your Vera whole health coach, so call today.

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