As summer ends and sunny days turn longer, darker and cooler, some people may notice a slight change in their mood. You may feel a little “blah” or “blue”, and for most of us this adjustment to the weather is normal. Over time we settle back into our fall and winter routines of school or work, spending time with family and friends, and holiday planning. If this is not the case and you find that seasonal changes impact your ability to cope with daily life, you may have a type of clinical depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.
The Canadian Mental Health Association recognises Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as “a type of clinical depression that can last until Spring” (2016). If you think you may have SAD, start by speaking to your doctor or mental health provider. Therapy techniques such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy have been shown to be very helpful when done with a regulated professional (CMHA, 2016). Also, light therapy has been found helpful in 70% of people with diagnosed with SAD (MDAO, n.d.)
Although there is no confirmed cause of SAD, changes in light that regulate our daily rhythms can impact our mood (CMHA, 2016).
On average, 2%-6% of Canadians will experience SAD in their lifetime and 15% will experience a milder type of SAD (MDAO, n.d.). Also, SAD tends to impact people over the age of 20 years old, and the condition is more common in women than in men (CMHA, 2016). SAD is also more common in Northern countries where the winter day is shorter and for those living in urban areas or for shift workers who experience less daytime light at work (CMHA, 2016).
What to look for
- change in appetite
- weight gain
- a tendency to oversleep
- difficulty concentrating
- avoidance of social situations
- feelings of anxiety and despair (CMHA, 2016)
Speak to your doctor or a qualified mental health professional such as a registered social worker or psychotherapist. I offer Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to help cope and manage such symptoms. In some cases, medication may also be recommended and I will provide a referral for a psychiatrist for you to discuss as required.
If you think you have SAD, the first step is to speak with someone. You may want to write down any changes you have noticed in how you are feeling so you don’t forget once you attend your medical or therapy appointment. Also, it will be helpful to increase your exposure to daytime light, and you can do this by working near a window where you are exposed to sunlight and getting outside during daytime hours. Try to stay in a regular routine and pay attention to how much sleep you are getting; for example, is it too much or too little? Both of these will impact the way you feel. Exercise is also a fantastic way to help regulate your moods. You may want to ask a friend or family member to go for a walk, meet for a hike, or join a fitness class. Lastly, since SAD is a type of clinical depression, it would be helpful to check out some of the other resources listed on the website.
Crystal Gerlach RSW RP
Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). (2016). Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved from http://ontario.cmha.ca/mental_health/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/#.WBeQmC0rKUl
Mood Disorders Association of Ontario (MDAO). (n.d.). Frequently Asked Questions – Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.). Retrieved from https://www.mooddisorders.ca/faq/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad