How can you tell if you just have the “winter blues” or if you are actually suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD. Well, it is typically a matter of degree, meaning that if you are just feeling a little blue because of the cold weather and the encroaching darkness, you probably just have the winter doldrums but it is not likely you would be diagnosed with actual SAD. Here is how to tell if you have SAD and what you can do about it if you do.
First, you should know that SAD is not viewed as an official diagnosis by the mental health profession. Rather, it is regarded as a subtype of an official diagnosis: clinical depression. If you find that winter weather and darkness have been causing you to sink into a deep, serious depression, including all the symptoms associated with clinical depression, then it is possible that you are indeed suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder.
You may suspect that you are in fact suffering from SAD, but only a doctor can officially diagnose you with SAD, so you will probably want to make an appointment for a mental health evaluation. The symptoms of depression include but are not limited to: changes in sleep patterns, a sad, depressed mood, increased anger, lethargy, a feeling of hopelessness, changes in appetite, weight loss or weight gain (often as a direct result of the appetite changes), and, in the most severe cases, suicidal thoughts.
If you experience any combination of these symptoms like “clockwork” every single year, whenever the weather starts to get colder and the days start to get shorter, then you may very well have SAD. Treatments for SAD include the typical treatments for depression: psychotherapy, or medication, or a combination of the two. Some patients with SAD find Wellbutrin XL to be effective for the treatment of their SAD. (In fact the FDA has given its official stamp of approval to Wellbutrin for use in the treatment of SAD.) The SSRI antidepressant medications (Effexor, Paxil, Zoloft, etc.) have also proven useful for some patients suffering from SAD.
Perhaps you have heard of light therapy, which some SAD sufferers use either in conjunction with or as an alternative to the various treatment modalities mentioned above. Note that this method has not been approved by the FDA because more clinical research needs to be conducted. But on an anecdotal level, many SAD sufferers swear by its effectiveness. The patient sits in front of a box that emits extremely bright light, which is believed to imitate sunlight, thereby altering the SAD sufferer’s brain chemistry in such a way that the depression lifts.
As was briefly alluded to earlier, it’s important that you not attempt to diagnose yourself with Seasonal Affective Disorder, even if you strongly suspect that you might be suffering from SAD. You may indeed have it, but you will want to see your doctor for a full mental health evaluation in order to find out for sure.