Individuals who have been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder tend to experience depression which comes and goes with the seasons.
Kamna Chhibber, Head of Department, Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram shares the reasons why. The winter months, with their gloomy dreariness can lead to significant fluctuations in moods leading a segment of the population to experience low moods, sadness, crying spells, lack of motivation, fatigue, loss of concentration, changes in their sleep cycles and appetite along with feelings of helplessness or/and hopelessness. Less commonly it is also seen that there are those who have the opposite pattern, where their symptoms tend to emerge in the spring-summer months.
Like with depression, seasonal affective disorder, too, affects more women than men. It is known that depression as an illness affects 1 in 4 women which contrasts with 1 in 10 men that it is known to impact. These variations are seen in the case of seasonal affective disorder as well.
The exact causes for these differences are not known. However, scientists have hypothesized about the role that may be played by certain hormones and neurotransmitters more in the case of women than in men. Depression is known to be linked to the neurotransmitter serotonin, the reduction of which leads to the development of the illness.
It has also been suggested that the reduction in the exposure to sunlight during the winter months is an additional factor which is responsible for the prevalence of seasonal affective disorder. This leads to changes in the body’s internal clock which can lead to the development of depressive symptomatology. The change in season is also believed to disrupt the levels of melatonin in the body which too plays a role in an individual’s sleep cycles as well as their mood states.
It is important to keep in mind that if the symptoms of depression are leading to fluctuations in continuing with day-to-day life, affecting maintenance of relationships and interfering in the ability to do things, then seeking help at the earliest is indicated.
There are other measures which can also be beneficial such an increasing exposure to sunlight, being more outdoors, staying away from poorly lit rooms. Additionally, it is helpful to work on thoughts and feelings through the medium of an approach like cognitive behavioural therapy and pushing the self to engage more in activities which is termed behavioural activation.
Seasonal affective disorder is a treatable condition and seeking help to manage the impact of the symptoms at the earliest is helpful in ensuring that the individual experiences relief from their debilitating effects. Relying on support systems as represented by friends and family members can be of immense help in such a scenario. So, don’t hesitate to talk and reach out to those around you for support in such a situation.