What is a Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

Basically, it’s the type of depression related to the amount of exposure to sunlight. SAD gets worse during the fall and winter season, but also possible to have during the late spring/early summer months. Episodes of depression that recur at the same time every year for more than 2 years may be SAD rather than the occasional winter blues.

About 2 to 3% of Canadians will experience SAD in their lifetime. 15% will experience a milder form of SAD. People with seasonal affective disorder make up about 10% of all depression cases. Because of short winter days, this type of disorder happens predominantly in northern climates. Symptoms can start around the 3rd decade of life, and it is more common in women than in men.

What are the symptoms of SAD?

  • Fatigue/lethargy;
  • Diminished interest in activities usually enjoyed;
  • Decreased interest in work and social activities;
  • Difficulty in concentration;
  • Weight gain, increased appetite, sweet/starchy food cravings;
  • Irritability;
  • Increased sleepiness;
  • Lack of energy.

The exact cause is unknown but it may be related to disruption of the body’s circadian rhythm (internal clock). Associated to stimulation resulting from the amount of light that enters the eyes (this seems to affect mood). Melatonin (a hormone) secreted during the night, stimulated from periods of reduced light, is associated with feeling drowsy and sleepy. SAD may be related to increased levels of melatonin in the body. Serotonin (a neurotransmitter) is involved in mood. Decreased levels of sunlight seem to diminish serotonin levels.

What is the treatment for seasonal affective disorder?

There is a variety of treatments that can be helpful in treating SAD. Light therapy (phototherapy) is one of them. Daily exposure to bright light, such as through a fluorescent light source (CSA: Canadian Standards Association-approved, with a filter to block UV light) meant to stimulate daylight 30 mins to 2 hours. Try to increase the time spent outside. At least 1 hour daily, even during winter months/times of weaker sunlight.

Another option is antidepressant medications. For that, you will need to consult a physician. Complementary therapy is helpful as well as certain herbs can help treat symptoms. We have a variety of tinctures and supplements at Empower Health that our Naturopathic Doctors prescribe according to the individual needs of the patients.

Don’t forget about your daily exercises! It will help to improve energy levels and depression.

This information is not meant for self-diagnosing. Consult a naturopathic physician, as there may be other causes for symptoms, and there are different forms of depression: