Seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD or seasonal depression, is a depressive disorder that roughly six percent of the US population suffers from. While this number sounds small it is in fact over 19 million people. To put that into perspective, the amount of people suffering from SAD is a few hundred short of the entire population of New York state. It is easy to miss the symptoms of seasonal depression for many reasons; the five most common reasons are as follows.
1. Thinking that it can only happen in the winter
There is a misconception that seasonal affective disorder only happens during the Fall and Winter seasons, but this isn’t the case. While having SAD during the Spring and Summer is less common than having it in the drearier months it isn’t an impossibility. The symptoms of summer seasonal depression actually include non-specific depression which is a contributing factor in why it is often times so overlooked. It is important to take note of sudden or severe changes in mood or behavior as they can be a sign of SAD in any season.
2. There is no age requirement
Statistically speaking, there is an equal opportunity for everyone aged 14 to 60 and over to be affected by seasonal affective disorder. It has been found that teenagers are less likely to suffer from SAD, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t still susceptible to it. Other mitigating factors such as poor health may add to a person’s likelihood of developing SAD, though for the most part it hinges on the amount of sunlight a person encounters during the day. The symptoms of seasonal depression are consistent across the different ages and may include irritability and anxiety. Both of those symptoms are things that teenagers have reported feeling at one time or another and may be a contributing factor in teens not being diagnosed with SAD as easily as their adult counterparts.
3. Mistaking it for the “winter blues”
Seasonal affective disorder isn’t just feeling down during a certain time of the year, it is actually a serious depressive disorder. Like any serious depressive disorder, it is imperative that you take care of yourself and see a mental health professional to help deal with it. Unlike sporadic and short bouts of weather related moodiness, SAD might require medications and therapy to keep the symptoms at bay. Winter blues is an actual seasonal issue but it is considered seasonal mood changes rather than the more serious form of seasonal depression. If you think that you have either SAD or winter blues you should speak to your doctor as there are ways to help lessen the symptoms you may be experiencing.
4. Living in the south, or anywhere with a relatively large amount of yearly sunshine
Seasonal affective disorder is believed to be caused by the changes in sunlight that we experience as the seasons change. Living in the southern region could give people a false sense of security as, for the most part, they escape the worst of the winter weather that the north experiences. While someone in Washington is seven times more likely to experience SAD than someone who lives in Florida it doesn’t rule the possibility out for the Floridians. The south does experience shorter days in the fall and winter so there is still ample opportunity for it to affect those that live there.
5. Not knowing what the symptoms are
On the surface, some of the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can be easy to overlook. With the holidays people may gain some weight so it might be easy to chalk changes in appetite up to over indulging around that time, but this is actually a symptom of SAD. Bouncing back into the daily grind of work after an eventful Summer full of camping can make anyone feel sluggish or agitated but this is once again on the list of seasonal affective disorder symptoms to look out for. This isn’t to say that you should worry every time you want to take a nap, it just means that if you are noticing these as marked differences from your normal daily behavior you might want to take a little more care and talk it over with your physician.
Other reading from Psych2Go: