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The change in seasons can bring about more than just cold weather. For some, this change comes with depressive episodes. Approximately 5% of the U.S. population suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, during the year. About 10-20% of recurring depression cases have a seasonal pattern.
What exactly is SAD? SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes with the changing seasons. Symptoms include fatigue, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and weight fluctuation. There are two types of SAD. Winter-onset is the most common with symptoms occurring in late fall to early winter and improving in the summer. Spring onset is the lesser known type of SAD that happens during late spring or early summer.
We know that SAD occurs with the changes of the seasons, but a diagnostic test for SAD still does not exist. Even without a formal diagnostic test, your healthcare provider can still perform a diagnostic procedure to determine if you suffer from SAD. Your doctor will ask a series of questions and perform a physical exam. Often, a complete blood count or thyroid test will be conducted to rule out any other health issues.
What are the treatment options if you’ve been diagnosed with SAD? There are multiple options for treatment that include traditional and alternative methods. Here’s a breakdown of SAD treatment options.
Traditional SAD Treatments
● Light Therapy- With light therapy, the person is exposed to a full-spectrum light anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and a half per day. The light simulates natural light and is thought to change the brain chemicals linked to mood.
● Psychotherapy- In psychotherapy patients are taught to recognize and change their negative thoughts, manage their stress, and utilize healthy coping strategies.
● Medication- In some instances, medication can be prescribed as a traditional method of treating SAD.
Alternative SAD Treatments
● Dawn Simulators- This treatment involves gradually increasing light a half hour before an alarm clock notification. This mimics the sun rising during warmer seasons.
● Supplements- Vitamin D supplements can be used to alleviate depression symptoms. Omega-3 oils are found in supplements or fatty fish and can relieve significant depression symptoms.
● Yoga and Exercise – Yoga therapy and regular exercise can effectively treat depression symptoms. Exercise releases the body’s feel-good chemicals called endorphins, but the real value lies in low-intensity exercise sustained over time. That kind of activity spurs the release of proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors, which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections. This improvement in brain function is known to make people feel better.
● Meditation – Meditation techniques have been found to reduce stress in people with SAD.
● Acupuncture – This treatment can reduce the severity of depression. The benefits can last for up to one year.
To learn more, checkout the infographic below created by Regis College’s Online Master of Science in Nursing degree program.
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