The Surprising Spectrum of Seasonal Affective Disorder


As the weather begins to change here in the Emirates, those with a keen interest psychology may start to wonder how these seasonal changes affect our mood. Some of you may have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, which affects an estimated 12 million in northern Europe. This condition is traditionally linked to regions characterized by frigid temperatures and heavy snowfall, where sunlight graces the land for only a few fleeting hours each day.


However, there is a surprising and under-researched aspect to SAD – about 10 per cent of sufferers experience their most significant symptoms in the summer. It is slowly becoming clear to researchers that the resonance of SAD transcends geographical boundaries and can be onset during both our warmer and cooler months.


In this blog, we'll delve into the specifics of SAD, its prevalence, potential causes, and the various treatment options available to those grappling with this seasonal challenge.


Seasonal Affective Disorder doesn't follow a one-size-fits-all pattern, but there are some interesting trends worth noting. A significant gender tilt stands out, with four out of five individuals facing seasonal depression being women. Typically, this mood change kicks in between the ages of 20 and 30, though it can make an earlier entrance in certain cases.


Now, the cause of SAD remains a bit of a mystery, but there are a few usual suspects. Winter-onset SAD is typically attributed to a lack of sunlight - less exposure messes with our natural rhythm, playing havoc with melatonin, serotonin, and Vitamin D levels. This shake-up in our hormones and brain chemistry can dial up the risk of depression and other mood swings.


Summer SAD, on the other hand, is more elusive. Picture this: scorching heat and humidity team up to bring on the 'blah' vibes, leaving us irritable and agitated. Expectations of ‘summer fun’ may leave us feeling pressured to ‘make the most’ of the warmer weather; potentially triggering social anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, and self-conscious ‘beach body’ image issues.


SAD brings a unique flavour to each season, with symptoms varying depending on whether it’s onset during summer or winter. Winter-onset SAD can lead to oversleeping, an increased appetite (with a particular craving for carbs), weight gain, and low energy. Summer-onset SAD, on the other hand, can cause insomnia as we struggle to sleep during the hot weather, a poor or reduced appetite, weight loss, anxiety, and increased irritability.


SAD, like other forms of depression, can worsen and have severe consequences if left untreated. Sufferers may begin to withdraw socially, causing problems at their work or school. Others may turn to substances to try and treat their symptoms, leading to an unhealthy or abusive use of alcohol or other drugs. SAD can even lead to the development of other mental health disorders, such as anxiety or major depressive disorder. 

Fortunately, there are effective treatments for SAD. The first line of treatment for winter-onset SAD is usually light therapy, also known as photon therapy. This involves sitting in front of a specialised light box that mimics natural outdoor light, and has been known to relieve the symptoms of SAD caused by a lack of sunlight.  


For summer-onset SAD, psychotherapy can help suffers to develop healthy coping mechanisms, identify and challenge negative thought patterns, and manage their stress or anxiety. Takalam’s certified counselors are here to help anyone who thinks they may be suffering from SAD. Medication is reserved for severe cases or when other treatments prove ineffective, with extended-release antidepressants showing promise in preventing depressive episodes.


In conclusion, as we navigate the changing seasons and their influence on our mood, let us recognize the diverse faces of Seasonal Affective Disorder. By understanding the unique characteristics of this disorder and seeking appropriate treatment, you can reclaim control over your mood, no matter the season.



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