First named and diagnosed in the mid-1980s, SAD has the classic symptoms of clinical depression, but typically manifests only during winter.
“We usually see symptoms begin to appear in the early fall,” said Dr. Patrick Britt, a clinical psychotherapist. “The symptoms may be mild and then worsen as the season progresses. Often, it’s the shorter days and less sunlight that tend to affect a person’s mood.”
The disorder is more common than many people realize, he said, and the symptoms should not be taken lightly.
“Sometimes you may feel like you’re not quite yourself,” Britt said. “You could be feeling fatigued, and your sleep habits may change. Depending on your own biorhythms, you could be sleeping more or sleeping less. Also, feelings of melancholy may become more prevalent.”
Other symptoms include weight changes, irritability and a lower sex drive. People who experience depression yearround may become more symptomatic during fall and winter.
SAD’s effects can be far-reaching, causing even those with outgoing personalities to become withdrawn.
“I first notice my mood changing when the swimsuits go back in the drawer,” said Wade Carter, a longtime Oklahoma City radio and television personality. “I really see a difference in my mood during fall and winter. I tend to go to bed earlier, and it takes a lot of exercise and self-discipline to keep things in check.”
Britt said light therapy may help, by using a special lamp with a very bright light that mimics sunlight.
Other forms of relief can come from antidepressants or herbal supplements, as well as “less traditional forms of therapy,” he said, such as using the
Alpha-Stim, a small device that clips to a person’s earlobes to send electrical pulses to the brain.
“It can be used several times throughout the day, and patients have indicated it helps relieve their symptoms,” he said.
In addition, Britt said that eating a healthy diet, avoiding excessive alcohol use and getting plenty of sleep and exercise are lifestyle choices that effectively alleviate symptoms.