Have you ever heard of seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? Steward Health Care Family Medicine Physician Montu Patel, MD, explains this form of depression some people, including men, struggle with every winter season.
What is seasonal affective disorder?
SAD is a type of seasonal depression that is thought to be caused by changes in daylight and the lack of exposure to light due to the darker, shorter days of the winter season. In many types of depression, people generally eat and sleep less and lose weight; people with SAD usually eat and sleep more and gain weight when it is cold and dark outside.
What are the symptoms?
The following symptoms typically begin in the fall, intensify in winter, and subside in spring: depressed mood and feelings of sadness; overeating and cravings for sweet or starchy foods; significant weight gain or loss; lack of energy; oversleeping or insomnia; fatigue; irritability; social withdrawal; difficulty concentrating; and decreased sexual desire.
How does SAD differ from other types of depression, including the holiday blues and stress?
The main difference between SAD and other types of depression is that SAD occurs seasonally, usually during the winter months. The holiday blues can be distinguished from SAD because they are generally not accompanied by physical symptoms. They are caused by the typical stresses of the December holiday season and occur only around the holidays.
How can SAD be treated?
Light Therapy. In this treatment, a person is exposed to light that is five to 20 times brighter than regular indoor lighting by sitting close to a light box for 15 minutes to a few hours a day. The length of time and intensity of the light can vary depending on a person’s needs and the equipment used.
Lifestyle Changes. Certain lifestyle changes may be beneficial. Increase your exposure to outdoor light by taking a daily walks or run. In addition, exercise and diet can be used to control weight gain. Since stress can exacerbate SAD, stress management is important, especially during these months.
Medications. Antidepressant medicines can be used to treat SAD, and use of light therapy along with medicine may also make it possible to take smaller doses of medicine and to reduce medicine side effects.
Men, if you have mild SAD symptoms, don’t be embarrassed as you are not alone. You can help yourself by following these treatments. But if you have symptoms that are interfering with your quality of life, talk to your doctor to get the help that you need.
To find a doctor or schedule an appointment visit Steward DoctorFinder™ or call 1-800-488-5959.