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Seasonal Affective Disorder

Bill Derbyshire 

Seasonal Affective Disorder, often referred to as SAD, is a psychiatric disorder in the category of Mood Disorders in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) - IV. Symptoms of SAD are similar to Major Depression with the exception that there is a distinct pattern of onset of symptoms that correlates with a season of the year, typically during the winter. Symptoms of Major Depression include some or all of the following:

  • Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate or indecisiveness nearly every day
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or recurrent thoughts of suicide.
  • Signs of agitation as observed by others

If you have five or more of these symptoms during a particular time of the year (usually beginning in the fall and lasting into the winter) year after year, then perhaps you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Typically your general physician can make this diagnosis; however a psychiatrist is specifically trained to assess mood disorders. Some licensed psychologists, social workers, and professional counselors can also assess for this disorder.

There are several potential forms of intervention to help relieve the symptoms of SAD. A primary approach, perhaps somewhat preventive, is a holistic approach that includes the following:

  • Regular exercise - at least three times a week, each time to include a minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise (walk, run, swim, bike, etc.)
  • Drink no or very little alcohol - Alcohol is a depressant
  • Join activities that includes involvement with others such as volunteer work
  • Expose yourself to nature light as much as possible
  • Avoid activities where you are isolated
  • Eat well balanced meals
  • Participate in activities that provide spiritual support
  • Think about how the "glass is half full" - think positive.

Other interventions can possibly include light therapy, anti-depressant medication and professional counseling. These interventions should be discussed with a qualified and licensed therapist or physician.

SAD can not necessarily be "cured" but can be managed in such a way that the symptoms become minimized.

If you have the winter blues, take charge and become proactive. If you have any questions you can call the Catoctin CASS office at 301-447-3611.

The next column will focus on school health issues.

Read other articles by Bill Derbyshire

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