For people living in more Northern climates, winter can be dark, cold and dreary. All too often this puts a damper on spirits and spring and summer time is eagerly awaited. However, if you find that you experience depression during the winter months and return to your usual jovial self in spring and summer then you may be suffering with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). While it is common not to be as enthusiastic and energetic in wet, cold and overcast weather, seasonal affective disorder is actual depression that occurs during these seasons.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is not different from depression apart from the duration. Clinical depression is ongoing and may gradually ease on its own or requires a combination of counseling and medication. It is not dependent on seasons. However, seasonal affective disorder is largely season-based depression, hence the name. It resolves on its own once the season changes. While winter is usually the month where it occurs, sometimes SAD may strike during other seasons.
The exact reason for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is unknown. It is believed to be due to less hours of sunlight in the winter months as is common in more northern areas that are further away from the equator. Very short days, cloudy and overcast with ongoing rain and snow are some of the factors that may affect the body’s natural biorhythm known as the circadian rhythm.
These changes also affect the body’s serotonin levels. Serotonin is a brain hormone that is largely responsible for our moods. When it is at normal levels we do not feel sad and depressed. When it is in excess we feel a sense of euphoria but when it is deficient, we tend to feel down and out. There may be no specific reason for this depressed state apart from the change in climate.
Another component that may play a role in SAD is another brain hormone known as melatonin. It is one of the main regulators of sleep. When darkness sets in then melatonin secretion increases and a person feels sleepy. An imbalance of this hormone may alter sleep patterns and affects moods to some extent.
The elderly are often less mobile, fairly intolerant to cold and may be suffering with underlying conditions that are aggravated in the winter months. These are all factors that can decrease their time outdoors during the sunlight hours and increase the chances of depression. If there is pre-existing depression then the condition is often aggravated further in the winter months.
The use of chronic medication may also play a role in the elderly who are more likely to be a long term drug regimen. Ultimately these combination of factors increases the risk of seasonal affective disorder in the elderly. Women are more likely to be affected and a family history of seasonal affective disorder are other risk factors.
Medication is usually not necessary for seasonal affective disorder unless the depression is so severe that a person is not longer functioning effectively in life. Counseling may also help but this is a long term solution. Often the easier approach is lifestyle measures and even light therapy. Simple changes in one’s environment and daily routine can make a big difference in coping with seasonal affective disorder. This includes :