When the darker days set in, nights are longer and days are colder it is natural to feel a slight dip in energy levels. Feeling stuck in the house, cranky and in need of a nap are not uncommon when the weather is bad. But, it has been found that some people are more susceptible to feeling down when winter comes around, experiencing symptoms not unlike depression.
This has come to be known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The effects vary in severity, but include fatigue, loss of interest and appetite, feeling of despair and even suicidal thoughts that only occur during the winter months.
Rosentha and Wehr describe SAD in their study published in 1987:
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) involves recurring episodes of depression, mania, or hypomania during certain seasons. Criteria for a diagnosis of SAD include a previous depressive episode, fall–winter depression alternating with non-depressed periods during spring–summer, and no other variables accounting for mood changes. SAD is most frequent in women aged in their 30s and is accompanied by atypical vegetative symptoms.
More recently in 2006 Lurie, Gawinski, Pierce and Rousseau added to this with their study:
Patients with seasonal affective disorder have episodes of major depression that tend to recur during specific times of the year, usually in winter. Like major depression, seasonal affective disorder probably is under diagnosed in primary care settings. Although several screening instruments are available, such screening is unlikely to lead to improved outcomes without personalized and detailed attention to individual symptoms.
In the twenty years that lapsed between the studies there does not appear to have been much change in the understanding of this disorder. The studies agree that the effects on an individual can be severe in nature and this is the reason for the continued search for the cause.
Doctors Partonen and Lonngvist found that abnormal melatonin metabolism was not to blame, as had been previously thought.
Brain serotonin was seen to show disturbed activity in those suffering with SAD and the conclusion was that exposure to light in the morning could be beneficial. For those individuals who do not respond to light, they suggested that antidepressants should be considered.
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