During the winter months, when the sky is grey and the air is cold, many people find themselves overcome with winter blues. Being stuck indoors, staring at grey skies and rainy weather for months on end can definitely ruin a person’s mood. For some, this simply means feeling less energetic than in the summer. But for others, this funk is a sign of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
According to Psychology Today, Seasonal Affective Disorder, abbreviated as SAD, affects an estimated 10 million Americans. Usually experienced during fall and winter, SAD is marked by feelings of depression, lethargy, and agitation. As the seasons change and the sun becomes increasingly elusive, people with SAD experience changed emotions that affect their daily lives.
Although various studies have had conflicting conclusions as to whether seasonal depression is caused by a change in light, geographic location, circadian rhythm, neurotransmitter levels, or even holiday stress, there is no question that millions of Americans experience shifts in mental health along with the changes in seasons. People with other mental health issues and a family history of such disorders are more likely to have SAD. According to the Mayo Clinic, those who live further from the equator are also more likely to experience SAD, because the change in light is more extreme from winter to summer in those locations.
One of the most common treatments used to ease symptoms of SAD is light therapy. Light has been shown to have powerful effects on people, as it can affect appetite, mood, and concentration. Light therapies aim to treat many symptoms of SAD by simulating the light exposure experienced during warmer months. These treatments come in many forms, from masks to rooms, and are often combined with medications and psychotherapy.
Seasonal Affective Disorder affects many Americans every year. Its harmful effects are a great reminder of the importance of mental health care. Mental health awareness is crucial to a broader movement—making mental health a priority and destigmatizing disorders like SAD.