This winter, Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly known as SAD, will affect many university students, especially those living in areas with less sunshine, like Drew University’s New Jersey campus. SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). However, the NIMH also says that some cases can happen in the spring and early summer.
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According to their site, diagnosis with SAD entails meeting the full criteria for major depression, coincided with specific seasons for at least two years. The site also states that seasonal depression is more frequent than non-seasonal depression. Some symptoms of SAD include having low amounts of energy, hypersomnia (an increased desire to sleep), carbohydrate cravings, social withdrawal and weight gain.
Although an exact cause for developing SAD is unknown, there are various attributes which increase the risk of having SAD. Women, for example, are four times more likely to be diagnosed with SAD than men; people that live closer to the equator are less likely to develop SAD than those closer to the poles. People who have a family history of other forms of depression are also more-likely to develop SAD than those whose families do not have such a history. If an individual has depression or bipolar disorder initially, their symptoms of depression may worsen with the seasons, although SAD is only diagnosed if seasonal is most common.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are four major options of treatment; medication, light therapy, psychotherapy and Vitamin D. With using the medication, there are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors that are used to treat SAD, as well as an antidepressant, bupropion. Each of these has side effects and it is best to talk to a doctor before taking medication.
Light therapy, according to the National Institute of Mental Health has been used since the 1980s in which a bright, artificial light is used to replace the limited sunlight in the fall and winter months. Symptoms may be relieved by sitting in front of a light box first thing in the morning on a daily basis during the season for 20-60 minutes.
Psychotherapy including cognitive behavioral therapy relies on identifying negative thoughts and replacing them with positive thoughts. This activation seeks to help the individual identify activities that are engaging and pleasurable to cope with the season. Although not regarded as an effective treatment, taking a Vitamin D supplementation would provide nutrients to the body, similar to the effects of sunshine.
Drew students and faculty who suspect that they might be suffering from SAD, or any other form of depression, can talk to a professional at Health Services or schedule a consultation appointment at the Counseling Center. These resources are both available to answer questions and provide detailed information about SAD. They can also help to determine your next steps if you are diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder.