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How to Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder

It’s normal to have bouts of depression throughout the year. That’s part of the human condition and can strike anybody at any age. However, if these emotional lows come around at the same time during the late fall or early winter and do not disappear until the spring and summer arrive, then you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. SAD is a type of depression that is based on changes in the season. SAD may also have the opposite effect of causing sadness during the sunnier months (but this is rare).

Symptoms of SAD include feeling depressed for most of the day, being sluggish or lethargic, having problems sleeping and concentrating, losing motivation to do your favourite activities, and feeling hopeless or helpless with thoughts of death or suicide. If you’re feeling this way almost every day, then it’s time to see a doctor. To diagnose your condition, he or she may give you a physical exam, a psychological evaluation and lab tests.

If you have SAD, you’ll generally get better when the warmer seasons arrive. But if you want to get better sooner, your doctor may recommend some of the following treatments.

  • Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, puts you about 12 to 18 inches in front of a light that is 20 times brighter than the typical indoor bulb. Sitting in front of the illumination for 30 or more minutes per day helps your brain produce more serotonin, which can improve your mood. Symptoms typically improve after a couple of weeks but be aware that this therapy can cause nausea, blurry vision, and headaches, and may affect eye conditions like cataracts or glaucoma.
  • Psychotherapy can also improve SAD symptoms. Through it, you identify and change negative behaviours and thoughts that may be exacerbating the problem and discover ways of coping with SAD by planning activities and minimizing avoidance behaviour.
  • Medication can work for particularly severe cases of SAD. Antidepressants may help prevent episodes if you have a history of this disorder. Your doctor may recommend starting treatment before your symptoms begin and then continuing treatment after the symptoms dissipate. It may take several weeks before you see results from medications and may need to try several different ones to find one that works well with the least side effects.

If you think you may be suffering from SAD be sure to tell a friend or family member or speak with your doctor about the condition.