The holiday season is fast approaching – a time of joy and celebration that many people look forward to all year. But for a small, but significant, segment of the population, this change of the season can result in feeling down and depressed. This sudden mood change associated with the winter months is more than just the holiday blues – as the American Psychological Association (APA) states: “the symptoms can be distressing and overwhelming and can interfere with daily functioning.”
Seasonal depression or winter depression is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is characterized by fatigue, overeating and weight gain, and common symptoms of depression, such as feelings of sadness, a loss of interest in activities that one usually enjoys, trouble concentrating or staying focused, and changes in sleep patterns. The symptoms of SAD can range from mild to severe, and onset may occur at any age.
According to the APA, approximately 5% of the U.S. adult population experiences SAD, usually during the winter months (though in some cases, during the summer), and symptoms typically endure through 40% (about 5 months) of the year. Women are more likely to experience SAD than men, and it is “more common in people living far from the equator where there are fewer daylight hours in the winter.” The Mayo Clinic notes that people with a family history of SAD and people with bipolar disorder or major depression may be more likely to experience SAD. Scientists have found reason to believe there is a biological component to SAD, linking it to biochemical imbalances in the brain brought on by the decrease in sunlight during the winter months.
During the winter season, social workers should be aware of the possibility that clients experiencing symptoms of depression may be suffering from SAD. It is important to ask clients if they have noticed a seasonal pattern of times they feel depressed or fatigued. With proper diagnosis, SAD can be effectively treated through a number of different options, including light therapy, antidepressant medications, and psychotherapy, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms may go away on their own with the change in seasons, but proper treatment during symptoms can help clients experiencing SAD to improve more quickly. Helping clients to recognize and cope with the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder can help them to bounce back quickly enough to enjoy the holiday season.