Seasonal affective disorder may be more than SAD-ness
Seasonal affective disorder -- the blues because the days are shorter and gloomier -- gets a lot of press this time of year and a lot of the pop-culture remedies are at best inconsistent and at worst meant to sell light therapy lamps. That's because light therapy appears to be the first responder when SAD is self-diagnosed.
But self-diagnosis may not be smart, mental health professionals say.
What's at risk is people assume they have a temporary case of SAD and they buy SAD lamps expecting relief. The condition instead may linger or get worse.
With so many possible conditions that spark the depression, light therapy is just one of several options for treatment, Greenberg says.
"Many people notice depression more in the winter," Greenberg said. But much of that can have to do with the stress of the holidays, the onset of gloomy weather during season changes and even job or economic stress, she said.
"SAD has some symptoms that are more typical of the seasonal aspect - weight gain, fatigue, more sleepiness, and lots of regular old depression. They're hard to distinguish."
Lori Tagger, a psychologist with St. Anthony's Psychological Services, says SAD isn't only a winter disorder. "It's any disorder that seems connected with a (time of year), she said. So length of the day may or may not be an issue, she said.
That's why at least counseling may be in order, or even medication, she said. Like any depression, it can be left to languish for too long, she said.
"If it gets in the way of your ability to function, you need to seek professional help. It can be treated with therapy or medication," she said.
The National Institute of Mental Health says of SAD:
"Some people experience a serious mood change during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. SAD is a type of depression. It usually lifts during spring and summer. SAD may be effectively treated with light therapy. But nearly half of people with SAD do not respond to light therapy alone. Anti depressant medicines and talk therapy can reduce SAD symptoms, either alone or combined with light therapy."
The symptoms, says Mental Health Institute, include:
- Sad, anxious or "empty" feelings.
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism.
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness.
- Irritability, restlessness.
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy.
- Fatigue and decreased energy.
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions.
- Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping.
- Changes in weight.
- Thoughts of death or suicide