Dr. Dylan: Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder

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The dark, short days of Winter have many of us feeling bleak, but sometimes it can be more than that. We asked Dr. Dylan Wyatt, an Emergency Medicine Physician at St. Luke’s, some questions about Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

What is seasonal affective disorder?

Dr. Dylan: Seasonal affective disorder is episodes of emotional change that correlate with particular seasons. The most common type of this by far is “winter depression” which starts in the fall, lasts through winter, and resolves in the spring and summer.

What sort of symptoms does seasonal affective disorder have?

Dr. Dylan: Depression is complicated, and not everyone reacts the same. Symptoms can also include Increased sleeping, increased appetite, “carbohydrate craving” (hunger for less healthy “comfort foods”), weight gain, sensitivity towards neutral or negative interpersonal interactions, inappropriate guilt, and irritability. They also can include fatigue, loss of energy, and trouble concentrating.

Importantly, people with SAD should still feel close to their normal amount of happiness and excitement when good things happen. These symptoms are called “atypical depression symptoms”, and if they only occur in the fall and winter for you, you should strongly consider talking to your doctor about SAD. If you are not feeling happiness and pleasure you do with activities that would normally bring you joy you should contact your doctor immediately. If you have thoughts of harming yourself or anyone else please go to the emergency room.

What are ways we can treat SAD?

Dr. Dylan: Most seasonal depression can be treated by your primary care provider. There are three ways you’re likely to be treated for Seasonal Affective Disorder, and your doctor will recommend one or a combination of these: Light Therapy, Psychotherapy, and Antidepressants. Additionally, there are ways we can all improve our mood and function during the winter months. You’ve heard me say them before: healthy diet, exercise including walking outdoors, and proper sleep duration and quality with good sleep hygiene.