by Dr. Molly O’Malley
There’s a chill in the air and it’s getting darker earlier. While that means wood in the fireplace and fun in the snow is not far away, for some the change of seasons can be a challenge. This time of year is when issues such as seasonal affective disorder may start to arise.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) consists of a subset of disorders that are caused by mood and biochemical disturbances. The most common form is seasonal depression. SAD can affect up to 5% of the population, but it can be as prevalent as 10% in northern latitudes where the weather is colder and sunlight is harder to come by. Because of its length of duration for some patients (up to 40% of the year), it can impact their daily life.
Symptoms of SAD can mirror typical symptoms of depression, which include sadness, guilt, hopelessness, lack of energy, fatigue, sleep problems, weight gain or loss, lack of interest in activities one normally finds interesting, and difficulty concentrating. However, most people recognize or can trace a pattern to the seasons. For example, symptoms tend to arise in fall and winter and go away, even without treatment, in spring and summer. Others, although less common, experience symptoms in the spring and summer with remission in the colder months.
There are several treatment options for SAD, including phototherapy. This form of therapy promotes exposure to light for set periods of time using light boxes that can be purchased online or at local stores. This treatment, also known as light therapy, can significantly improve mood in one to two weeks. Other equally effective options include medications as well as cognitive behavioral therapy. These treatments can be done alone or in combination with each other. Other beneficial practices include exercise, stress and relaxation techniques, and spending more time outdoors, especially during daylight hours.
Just as every person and every situation is different, so too can be the proper treatment. It’s not unusual to have a bad day or feel down every now and then. But if it becomes a pattern and impacts your life, it’s time to seek advice. If you or someone you know may be experiencing these symptoms, a primary care doctor could help you weigh options tailored to your specific needs.
Dr. Molly O’Malley
Dr. O’Malley is a primary care physician at Mercy’s Yarmouth Primary Care located at 385 Route 1 in Yarmouth.
Content provided by Mercy Hospital