In late summer, the days get shorter, and you start to notice changes in how you feel. Your energy decreases, you experience sleep troubles, and you may become moody. A coincidence? Maybe. But a more likely possibility is you are one of 10 million Americans who suffer from a kind of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
WHAT IS SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER?
Seasonal depression, also called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a kind of depression occurring at around the same time of year, annually, usually beginning in fall, getting worse in winter, and subsiding in spring. It is more significant than “cabin fever” or “the winter blues.” “Summer depression,” a rare form of SAD, happens in late spring or early summer and subsides in the fall.
In the Puget Sound region, our northern latitude exaggerates the seasonal changes in daylight and darkness. The decrease in daylight is dramatic and prolonged in our part of the country, leading to even more pronounced feelings of SAD for many.
Treatment for SAD can include light therapy, medications like ketamine to treat depression
symptoms, and psychotherapy.
WHAT CAUSES SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER?
The causes behind SAD are unknown, but investigations have uncovered biological clues:
- People experiencing SAD may have difficulty controlling one of the crucial neurotransmitters related to mood, serotonin. One study discovered that people experiencing SAD have 5 percent greater serotonin transporter protein during winter than in the summer months. More serotonin transporter protein means less serotonin free at the synapse because the purpose of the transporter is recycling neurotransmitters into the “presynaptic” neuron.
- If you have SAD, you may overproduce melatonin. Darkness boosts the production of melatonin, which controls sleep. As winter days lose daylight, melatonin production rises, leaving someone with SAD more lethargic and making them feel sleepier, sometimes resulting in delayed circadian rhythms.
- People with SAD can make less Vitamin D. Vitamin D is thought to have a part in serotonin activity. A lack of vitamin D can be linked with clinically significant symptoms of depression.
There are several reasons causing a person to have a greater chance of suffering from SAD. For example, SAD is common in people who reside further north or south of the equator. Also, people whose blood relatives have a history of mental illness or mood disorders have a greater chance of developing SAD than people without that family history.
SYMPTOMS OF SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER
Like other mental health disorders, SAD often co-exists with anxiety, bipolar disorder, and others, often hitting people when they least expect it. The consequences can be serious, resulting in fatigue, irritability, and low moods. In many cases, seasonal affective disorder symptoms show up late fall to early winter and subside during spring and summer when there is more sunlight. Less generally, people with the reverse pattern show symptoms which start during spring or summer. In either instance, symptoms can start out mild then turn more serious when the season progresses.
The symptoms and signs of SAD are different for everyone but may include:
- Feeling depressed nearly all of the day, every day
- Losing attraction in activities once enjoyable
- Experiencing low energy
- Having trouble with sleeping
- Experiencing shifts in eating habits or weight
- Feeling agitated or sluggish
- Having trouble concentrating
- Feeling worthless, hopeless, or guilty
- Frequently thinking of your death or suicide
If you are noticing an increase in these types of symptoms, especially during the short winter days, you may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder. But there is no reason to suffer, SAD can be effectively treated for most people.
KETAMINE AND DEPRESSION
Research into how ketamine reduces symptoms of depression is ongoing, but clues to the mystery are slowly being revealed. Antidepressants function by altering the balance of chemicals in the brain – usually serotonin and dopamine – but ketamine is believed to shift the manner in which brain cells talk to each other. Ketamine stops a kind of receptor in the brain, known as NMDA, believed to be an important player in depression. Recent studies reveal positive long-term outcomes on depression, even though ketamine remains in the body for a short time. The drug also blocks other brain receptors, such as opioid receptors, which affect depression and pain.
TIPS FOR FIGHTING SAD
- Try using a lightbox in the fall and winter months.
- Spend time outside daily, during the middle of the day if possible.
- Eat a well-balanced diet.
- Exercise 30 minutes a day, three days a week.
- Stay involved with friends, family, and daily life.
- Talk to a mental health professional.
- Talk to your doctor about the benefits of medicine like ketamine.
TREATMENT FOR SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER
The diagnosis of SAD happens just like any other mental health ailment. Patients will undergo an exam by a medical doctor to rule out other underlying causes, then a mental health evaluation, and, finally, a diagnosis based on test results and criteria in the DSM-5. Treating SAD normally involves some form of light therapy, psychotherapy, and the use of medicine to manage symptoms of depression, like ketamine. Ketamine or esketamine is dispensed via infusion therapy or nasal spray and has been found to be extremely effective when other treatments have failed.
SAD is more than just “winter blues” and its symptoms should not be ignored. If you are suffering from Seasonal Effective Disorder, or any kind of depression, get help. Treatment including psychotherapy and medication like ketamine is known to be effective in reducing the symptoms of SAD.
To learn more about the innovative new treatments that are available contact us today. We can help.