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Let's talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder - Bell Let's Talk

August 28, 2019

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a recurring depression that affects individuals mostly during the winter months and recedes during the spring and summer.

How common is SAD?

It's estimated that between 2 and 6 per cent of Canadians suffer from SAD, with about 75 per cent of those affecting women between the ages of 20 and 49. Though SAD is most common during these ages, it can also occur in children, adolescents, and the elderly.

What causes SAD?

The exact cause of SAD is still unknown, but researchers suspect that an increased level of melatonin in the blood could be a factor. Melatonin increases the need and desire to sleep. SAD affects people more during the colder, darker months because the body produces more melatonin during this time.

Decreased exposure to sunlight resulting in an increased production of melatonin causes the biological clock that regulates mood, sleep, and hormones to run slower in winter. This is why those most affected by SAD tend to live in areas that experience decreased daylight for months at a time.

What are the symptoms of SAD?

Signs of SAD can vary depending on the severity of the condition. Here are some general symptoms:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Decreased interest in daily activities
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Increased appetite with weight gain
  • Cravings for carbohydrates
  • Increased sleep, with more daytime sleepiness
  • Coping with SAD

    If you feel like you are experiencing some or all of these symptoms, there are a number of ways you can help decrease the effects of the symptoms. In severe cases, your doctor can prescribe medication, but oftentimes self-help tactics can be just as effective:

  • Increase the amount of light in your home. Open blinds, add skylights and trim trees that block sunlight.
  • Get outside. Walk outdoors on sunny days, even during winter months.
  • Exercise regularly. Physical exercise helps relieve stress and anxiety, which can exacerbate SAD.
  • Find ways to relax.
  • Learn how to manage your stress.
  • Take a trip. If possible, take winter vacations to sunny, warm destinations.
  • Many individual and group health plans cover psychological treatment, similar to massage and physiotherapy. It's important to always remember that you are never alone and the best way to help cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or any mental health issue, is to talk about it with someone you trust.