December is Seasonal Affective Disorder Awareness Month, or SAD as many know it. In an exclusive interview, family practitioner Dr. Jennifer Caudle, DO sheds some light on this very common disorder that affects an estimated 6.1 percent of the U.S. population.
What it is
“Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression basically -- depression-like symptoms that occur really, only during certain times of the year -- usually this is in the wintertime when the days get shorter, when there’s less light, when it’s colder outside, explains Dr. Caudle. “And that’s where the name seasonal comes in, because really it’s the environment that sort of triggers these depressive symptoms,” she says.
Some of the symptoms of SAD include: feeling hopeless, a change in appetite, weight loss, weight gain, sleeping more, feeling tired and sluggish, withdrawing socially, being irritable, feeling unhappy, not able to concentrate, and a loss of interest in enjoying life.
So if you’re wondering if you have SAD or general depression? The main key is, pay attention to when your symptoms begin and monitor the duration of your symptoms.
“So, I would be less likely to say that the person with year-round symptoms has Seasonal Affective Disorder,” Dr. Caudle says.
There are many options available to treat SAD, but there is no one treatment that suits all.
“The treatment for SAD range from things like just making sure the patient gets enough sleep and eats a healthy diet, sometimes patients really need to make sure to exercise a little more often or read a book to make them happy, but for other people, that is not enough, and for some people those lifestyle changes may not work,” notes Dr. Caudle.
Depending on the individual, medication may be prescribed, but for many people, natural methods are effective and will most often be drug-free.
“Sometimes people need talk therapy, where they just talk to somebody, whether it’s a psychologist or a licensed clinical social worker, just to talk about how they feel during the cold winter months,” reports Dr. Caudle.
“And finally, studies have shown that light therapy can actually be very helpful for people, meaning they are actually getting exposed to artificial light, but it may mimic the sunlight and really help people sort of cope with the darkness that can happen with winter,” Dr. Caudle concludes.
To learn more, listen to the Partners in Health radio interview with Dr. Caudle on PWN radio.