Danielle Ibelema, MD
What To Do When You're SAD; Treatment For Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that primarily presents in the fall or winter, and resolves by the spring. The shorter days, increased darkness and the colder weather can cause internal biological changes that can affect your mood. The symptoms can be severe enough that they affect an individual's functioning, and wellbeing. Treatment is important once the symptoms have been recognized. SAD is treated similarly to traditional depression.
Medication for Seasonal Affective Disorder
Psychiatric medications have a bad reputation, but they're not as bad as the Hollywood movies and Reddit would lead you to believe. Medication can be safe and effective when prescribed and supervised by a doctor or medical professional.
Medication is often a necessary part of treatment for depression. Similar to other types of depression, there are variety of antidepressants that can be used to treat SAD. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most popular antidepressant prescribed for SAD. SSRIs work by increasing the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin by blocking serotonin reabsorption. When serotonin is too high or too low, a person may become depressed.
It's important to rule out other medical conditions before starting medications, as there are other medical conditions that can look like depression.
Treatment with Light Therapy
Light therapy involves using a light therapy box or light therapy lamp, and sitting in front of the light for 20-30 minutes each morning. Using the light source in the morning tends to be more helpful than using it later in the day.Most people see some improvements from light therapy within one or two weeks
You can usually buy light therapy boxes and lamps online with stores like Amazon, but the the light source needs to provide at least 10,000 lux to be effective.
If you don’t want to buy a light box or lamp, you can use natural sunlight by spending time outside during the day. Sunshine is free, after all. No Amazon account required.
Psychotherapy helps Seasonal Affective Disorder
Therapy makes everything better. Ok maybe not everything; but it can help you be mentally healthier, and good mental health affects every nuance of you life. It's not quite like how they show it the movies. You don't have to lie on a couch, but you will be given the opportunity to talk about your childhood and to vent about your parent's shortcomings. Complaints about spouses, partners and teachers and supervisors are all welcome.
Negative thoughts and distortions can be a hallmark of depression. Negative thoughts and non reality based beliefs about yourself and the world can create a sort of alternative unhealthy reality. Talking about your thoughts out loud , and having a professional guide you through your reflective process can be incredibly helpful for depression. A good therapist acts a mirror, reflecting the depths and corners of yourself that you may not be able to consciously see.
Exercise and Lifestyle Improvements
Let's not forget about the basics. Physical movement, social connection, and nutrient rich real food are important factors when addressing most conditions. SAD is no exception. Our bodies and minds need to be fueled by movement and nutrients. Humans are not built to spend hours sitting in chairs, squinting at screens while grazing on processed food made in a factory a year ago. We need to incorporate movement, real food and real people into our routines to be healthy and whole. Physical movement, social connection , adequate sleep and healthy food will improve your physical health and your mental health. Remember, the mind and body are not disjointed. They are connected. What is healthy for your physical body is likely also healthy for your mind.
When to seek professional help
This year, it's even more important to be mindful of your mental health as we all cope with the psychological strain and trauma of the past 2 years. If you notice that your mood, appetite or energy levels have changed, or if you are feeling sad, negative or hopeless, it's important to seek help from a medical professional. If you feel like the symptoms are affecting your ability to function or if they're disrupting your day to day life, that is also a sign that it's time to seek help.
If you feel your depression is severe or if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, consult a doctor immediately or seek help at the closest emergency room.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-TALK (8255)