Summertime Sadness is more than just a song by crooner Lana del Rey, and more people experience a Blue Christmas than just Elvis Presley. Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately abbreviated as SAD) occurs when people in good mental health experience depression during certain seasons of the year. We can say this, too, shall pass, but what causes this short-term sorrow and how can it be overcome?
Cause & Affect
Seasonal Affective Disorder is typically seen in the winter with the absence of natural sunlight, serotonin levels are reduced greatly and can make you feel empty inside. Symptoms mirror that of depression and is much more than just sleeping in a little extra and staying inside because it's cold. In fact, seasonal depression is a form of major depression, triggered by environmental change.
It's Not Just Winter...
Though depressive symptoms are most often associated with winter, seasonal depression can impact people in the summer months. Though vacations may sound relaxing, disrupted schedules, logistical planning, and financial stress can make you feel all the trouble you go through to have fun just isn't worth it.
Allergies can also play a role, as the environmental changes can make you feel puffy, stuffy, and all-around miserable. Examples include spring pollen outbreaks and cedar fever in the winter.
Suicide Rates Trend Higher in Colder & Less-Populous States
In Alaska, residents experience 1-2 months of minimal to no sunlight in the winter. The combination of cold weather and consistent darkness can easily reinforce a depressive mindset and prove to be deadly. Another contributing factor is less populous, rural states have higher suicide rates with lack of human interaction. The impact can occur in both winter and spring, having an equal effect on women and men.
Suicides per 100,000 people by state are illustrated in the map below, sourced by the CDC.
A suggested method to counteract Seasonal Affective Disorder is bright light therapy. When we are in these cold, darker months, the brain gets confused when it's day or night, even if we know by looking at the clock. Using a full-spectrum light while awake can maintain production of vitamin D. When it's time to go to bed, turn off the light, and over time, it should be easier to fall asleep, and improve your mental state, with the regulation of your circadian rhythm.
Aside from this, being physically active with exercise or just bundling up for a walk is beneficial. Staying socially active is crucial: Go to a "friendsgiving," white elephant party, check out the holiday lights around town, i.e., some variation of social or physical activity. Minimizing your time alone will help avoid the vicious cycle of dark thoughts driving you further into seclusion.
The Bottom Line
If you are experiencing severe depression, no matter what season it is, it is encouraged you call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, worked by trained professionals who can talk you through it. Even if you feel you're not quite at that level, speaking to someone can leave you coming out with more than you did coming in.
Bleak, dreary months can make it hard to maintain an active lifestyle, or even the desire to. Same goes for hot, sunny months where being outside can aggravate the sinuses. It's possible your depression could be at the clinical level. Allergy testing may be beneficial to pinpoint what allergens are out and about, and if antihistamines are recommended to combat their effects. Hormonal imbalance in the production of testosterone, estrogen, vitamin D, and potential hyperthyroidism/hypothyroidism can also be evaluated with a blood wellness test.