Depression is a psychological disorder that is sometimes referred to as the ‘common cold’ of mental health. Nearly 10% of the population suffers from a depressive disorder at any given time.
We all get down or have sad periods in our lives from time to time that can last a period of days or weeks, but when it continues for an extended period that keeps you from leading a normal, active, productive life, you may need to evaluate yourself, your feelings, and seek treatment.
There are several different types of depression: Major depression, dysthymia, bi-polar disorder, psychotic depression, and seasonal depression. Symptoms of depression can vary for each individual and depends on the type of depression one has.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (also know as S.A.D., winter depression, winter blues or seasonal depression) is a type of depression that occurs from the start of the fall and continues until the spring. SAD affects about 4 to 6 percent of the U.S. population. People who suffer from SAD can have normal mental health throughout most of the year but experience depressive symptoms in the winter.
The causes of depression are not fully known, most likely a combination of genetic, biologic, and environmental factors play a role, although some believe it is triggered by the brain’s response to decreased daylight exposure.
One study of SAD in the United States found the rates of SAD were seven times higher among people in New Hampshire than in Florida, suggesting that the farther people live from the equator, the more likely they are to develop SAD.
Experts think that two specific chemicals in the brain, melatonin and serotonin, that may be involved in SAD. These two chemicals help regulate a person's sleep-wake cycles, energy, and mood. Shorter days and longer hours of darkness in fall and winter may cause increased levels of melatonin and decreased levels of serotonin, creating the biological conditions for depression.
Melatonin is linked to sleep. The body produces it in greater quantities when it's dark or when days are shorter. This increased production of melatonin can cause a person to feel sleepy and lethargic.
With serotonin, it's the reverse - serotonin production goes up when a person is exposed to sunlight, so it's likely that a person will have lower levels of serotonin during the winter when the days are shorter. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression, whereas increasing the availability of serotonin helps to combat depression.
It is important that you do not diagnose yourself with SAD. If you have symptoms of depression, see your physician for a thorough assessment.
Most people with SAD have symptoms appear during the late fall or early winter and go away during the beginning of spring or summer. People with SAD have many of the normal signs of depression, including:
It's normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can't seem to get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your physician.
Summer SAD is also known as Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder. Unfortunately, there is a small number of people that become depressed in the summer. Summer SAD is thought to affect less than 1% of the population, making it much rarer than winter SAD. Those with Summer SAD sleep less, eat less and lose wait. It is the reverse of winter SAD, hence the name Reverse SAD. Summer SAD is linked to a sensitivity to heat and light. Experts recommend staying cool with cold showers, air conditioning, swimming in cold lakes, or heading north to cooler climes if you can. Since people tend to drink more alcohol in the summer, be mindful of your consumption, since alcohol is a depressant. Talk to your physician if you’re struggling with a low mood during the summer.
Some people with the opposite pattern have symptoms that begin in spring or summer. In either case, symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.