Tips for Parents
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
As winter approaches, you may be noticing your student going through a change. Does she lack energy or seem sluggish? Has he withdrawn socially or lost interest in his work and activities? Is she sleeping more? This can often be attributed to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression that occurs in relation to the seasons, most commonly beginning in winter.
This is more than "cabin fever" — SAD sufferers exhibit symptoms of depression profound enough to affect school, work and their relationships. It can sometimes progress to major depression while in others, the symptoms resolve themselves with the change of seasons.
Who Suffers from SAD?
SAD generally begins in adolescence or early adulthood. It occurs more frequently in women than in men. Evidence suggests that SAD is more frequent among people who live further from the equator. And, while winter onset SAD is most common, there is also a less common form that comes about in spring or summer.
The specific causes of SAD are unknown, but there are several possibilities:
- It is possible that the reduced level of sunlight in the fall and winter disrupts the circadian rhythm. Disturbances in the body's sleep/wake regulations may cause depression.
- The body's production of melatonin increases during the winter months. Melatonin has been linked to depression, and an excess of this hormone may be a factor.
- Reduced sunlight can also cause a drop in serotonin, the brain chemical that affects mood. This can also lead to depression.
SAD is generally diagnosed as a subtype of depression or bipolar disorder. Usually, SAD will be diagnosed if:
- The person has experienced the symptoms of depression for two years or more, but only during a certain season
- These periods of depression are followed by periods of non-depression
- There are no other explanations for the change in mood or behavior (substance abuse, increased stress or problems, physical illness, etc.)
Some of the treatment options available to people with SAD include:
- Talk therapy
- Spending more time outdoors or near a window at home, school or work
- Light therapy using a special lamp to mimic the spectrum of light from the sun. This is often the main treatment for people with SAD. They'll sit a few feet from one of these specialized lamps so they are exposed to very bright light, which mimics outdoor light and causes a biochemical change in the brain that will lift their moods.
As with any mental health concern, people with SAD need professional help. If your student seems to be experiencing any of the symptoms above, encourage him to seek out a campus counselor's expertise.
Sources: www.nimh.nih.gov; www.mayoclinic.com; www.sltbr.org/sadfaq.htm
Based on research by Jessica Polledri, PaperClip Communications
Symptoms of Winter Onset SAD
• Depression with the onset of fall or winter
• Lack of energy
• Decreased interest in work or significant activities
• Increased appetite and weight gain
• Carbohydrate cravings
• Increased sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness
• Social withdrawal
• Afternoon slumps with decreased energy and concentration
• Slow, sluggish, lethargic movement
Prepared for our institution by PaperClip Communications, www.paper-clip.com.
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