Mental Health Professionals - Support Resources for Family Members Message

From: "Mental Health Professionals - Support Resources for Family Members" <publications@PROTECTED>
Subject: Mental Health Professionals - Support Resources for Family Members Message
Date: December 15th 2017

Avoiding the Winter Blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder

How does the weather affect our mental health?

As the winter months begin, the days become shorter and the weather colder. This means less sunshine and fewer opportunities to spend time outside. Many people find that their mood and energy levels are affected by this change in weather. For some, these seasonal changes have such a dramatic effect on their overall well-being that they may be diagnosed with “seasonal affective disorder,” a type of depression.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as the “winter blues”, is a type of major depressive disorder that occurs seasonally, typically beginning in fall and continuing through the winter months. Although SAD usually occurs in the winter, there is another form that affects people in the summer, which usually begins in the spring. A person is diagnosed with SAD when they have reoccurring depression during the same season for at least two years. About 2-3% of Canadians will experience SAD in their lifetime.

People with SAD typically have unbalanced serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter that is responsible for regulating mood. Weather is a key factor for people who have SAD because the decrease in sunlight during the winter months has been linked to a decrease in serotonin activity, which can cause depression. This change in weather also increases melatonin activity, a hormone that causes sleepiness, lethargy and tiredness – it plays a role in our sleep and wake cycles.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

  • Low energy; feeling tired or lethargic – may have trouble taking on everyday tasks
  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Feeling irritable, tense or stressed
  • Change in appetite – may crave sugary or starchy foods
  • Weight gain
  • Changes in sleeping habits – sleeping more than usual or difficulty having restful sleep
  • Uninterested in physical contact
  • Withdrawal from social interactions or activities previously enjoyed

Read more about Seasonal Affective Disorder:

Visit the information page Seasonal Affective Disorder by the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches is an article that provides a detailed explanation of SAD, its symptoms and common treatments.

Don’t be Sad: How to beat seasonal affective disorder offers more information about the disorder and strategies for avoiding the winter blues.

Fraser Health Authority’s article, 10 ways to beat the winter blahs provides an overview on seasonal affective disorder and tips on how to reduce symptoms.

Treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder

There are several common treatment options for seasonal affective disorder:

  • Light therapy is an effective and relatively easy way to treat seasonal affective disorder. It is thought to reset a person’s sleep and wake cycles, which are often altered with SAD. There are two different types of light therapy: Bright light treatment and dawn simulation. Bright light treatment uses light boxes with light that mimics the sun, but is not as bright; whereas dawn simulation uses a dim light that goes on in the morning and gets brighter over time, mimicking the sunrise. Both of these treatments are typically prescribed for 30 minutes to two hours a day and should be used consistently until the season changes.
  • Antidepressants can be used alone or in combination with light therapy to treat SAD. The most commonly prescribed antidepressants for treating SAD are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Paxil or Zoloft.
  • Counselling is another treatment option. The most popular counselling treatment for SAD is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The goal of CBT is to help the person breakdown problems and negative patterns by changing their perspective on them.

The Mood Disorders Association of British Columbia is a valuable resource offering support and education for people living with a mood disorder.

Did You Know?

The study Seasonality in Seeking Mental Health Information on Google compared Google search results about mental illness across seasons in the United States and Australia. Results from this study show a higher number of searches seeking information about mental illness during the winter months.

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