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Seasonal Affective Disorder: Coming Out of the Cold
The days are growing shorter and colder in the Northern hemisphere. And some people are feeling gloomier. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is the seasonal depression that affects between 6% and 10% of the population generally during the winter months.(1)(2) Though many people may feel a bit blue during the short, cold days of winter, for others, the symptoms are more serious. SAD is a genuine form of depression and a recognized psychiatric disorder, with a specific symptom set and treatment requirements.
SAD can affect the sufferer in much the same way as clinical depression. Like depression, seasonal affective disorder can range from mild to severe. It appears to be much more common in higher latitudes than in lower ones and is more common in North America, where the prevalence is higher than in other parts of the world, and twice as high as in Europe.(1)(4)
Seasonal affective disorder can make life extremely unpleasant for the sufferer, but the good news is that it is treatable. Though the symptoms of SAD tend to go away during the warmer months of the year, there’s no reason to suffer from it if you don’t have to.
Similar to Depression
Seasonal affective disorder is considered a form of recurrent major depressive disorder by the American Psychological Association.(2) It usually begins in the fall, with symptoms worsening during the winter months, and improving in the spring and summer.(2)(3)
Most of the symptoms of SAD are the same as those of "regular" depression: sad or hopeless feelings; a lack of energy; changes in sleep and eating patterns; inability to concentrate, especially in the afternoon; social withdrawal; irritability; and loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities. In SAD, as opposed to non-seasonal depression, over-eating with weight gain and sleeping more than usual are two of the more common symptoms. Occasionally a “reverse” SAD can occur, with people experiencing symptoms during the summer months rather than the winter, but this form is rare.(5)