Five Ways that Seasonal Affective Disorder Is Different from Depression

Five Ways that Seasonal Affective Disorder Is Different from Depression

SAD is brought on by a change in the seasons, most commonly in the winter

According to the Mayo Clinic, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression related to a change in seasons. Many people confuse SAD with other forms of depression, although the two are different from one another. The following are five ways that SAD is different from depression.

SAD Occurs During Certain Times of the Year

The cause of SAD is much different from other forms of depression. While depression may be brought on by life events such as trauma, divorce, or loss of a loved one, SAD is brought on by a change in the seasons. Because of this, those with SAD are affected only during certain times of the year. Although it most commonly occurs in the winter months, some people experience SAD in the summer months. According to the Cleveland Clinic, SAD occurs during certain times of the year as a result of changes in the availability of sunlight.

Symptoms of SAD Vary Between Seasons

The symptoms of depression tend to remain consistent throughout the course of the illness. Although some symptoms may be more prominent at times, there is usually no noticeable pattern. However, the symptoms of SAD tend to vary between the seasons. According to the Cleveland Clinic, those that suffer from SAD in the winter months typically experience symptoms of sadness, anxiety, social withdrawal, fatigue, lack of energy, increased sleep, carbohydrate cravings and weight gain. Those with summer SAD may have a different set of symptoms that include decreased appetite, weight loss, agitation, restlessness and trouble sleeping.

SAD Can Occur with Depression or Bipolar Disorder

Depression and SAD can both coexist with other physical and psychological disorders. However, SAD commonly occurs in those who have a history of depression or who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This is due to an alteration in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it is believed that there may be an imbalance in these neurotransmitters in those with SAD and changes in light exposure contribute to the imbalance.

Diagnostic Criteria Are Different

When establishing a diagnosis for either depression or SAD, healthcare providers may perform both physical and psychological evaluations to determine potential causes of the presenting symptoms. The diagnostic criteria for these two disorders are set by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The criteria for depression with seasonal patterns, often referred to as SAD, include depression that begins and ends during a specific season every year for at least two years. Furthermore, there must be no noted episodes of depression during the months where mood is typically stable.

Treatment for SAD May Include Light Therapy

Individual therapy, support groups and pharmacologic therapies are all common components of treatment for both depression and SAD. However, those with SAD may also include light therapy as part of their treatment plan. Light therapy, also called phototherapy, involves exposure to a special form of light that mimics natural sunlight. According to the Mayo Clinic, light therapy is one of the first line treatments for those who experience SAD in the winter months.

Get Help for SAD or Depression

If you or someone you know suffers from SAD or depression, it is important to seek advice about appropriate treatment services. Therefore, please call our toll-free helpline today. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to answer any questions you might have about treatments for SAD and depression.

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