Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder in Amherst and Cambridge, MA

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a class of depression that fluctuates with the seasons, often starting in the autumn or early winter and easing during the spring and summer. Depressive episodes linked to the summer exist but are much less commonly reported than winter episodes of SAD.

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms of the Winter Pattern of SAD May Include:

  • Low energy
  • Hypersomnia
  • Overeating
  • Weight gain
  • Craving for carbohydrates
  • Social withdrawal (feel like “hibernating”)

Symptoms of the Less Frequently Occurring Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder Pattern Include:

  • Poor appetite with associated weight loss
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Episodes of violent behavior

Risk Factors

Attributes that may increase your risk of SAD include:

  • Being female. Women are four times more likely to report SAD
  • Living far from the equator increases the risk of developing SAD
  • People with a family history of other types of depression are more likely to develop SAD than people who do not have a family history of depression.
  • Darker and colder weather may exacerbate present mood disorders in the winter months.
  • Younger adults are at greater risk of SAD than more mature adults. Even children and teens report experiencing SAD.

The causes of SAD are unknown, but research has found some biological clues.

  • People with SAD often have difficulty regulating one of the critical neurotransmitters of mood, serotonin. A study found that people with SAD have five percent more serotonin transporter protein in winter than in summer. Higher serotonin transporter protein leaves less serotonin available at the synapse because the function of the transporter is to recycle neurotransmitters back into the pre-synaptic neuron.
  • People with SAD may overproduce the hormone melatonin. In the winter months, more darkness increases the production of melatonin, which regulates sleep.
  • People with SAD also may produce less Vitamin D. Vitamin D is believed to play a role in serotonin activity. Vitamin D insufficiency may be associated with clinically significant depression symptoms.

Treatments & Therapies

There are four primary types of treatment for SAD:

  • Medication, including ketamine
  • Light therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Vitamin D
  • TMS

These treatments may be used individually or in combination. Both ketamine and TMS address the brain areas most commonly associated with depression. Ketamine works chemically, while TMS works electromagnetically to rewire the brain, diverting regions and actions closely linked with depressive disorders.

No two people are affected the same way by SAD, and there is no “one–size–fits–all” treatment. Finding the best treatment for you may take trial and error. At Cambridge Biotherapies™, we take time to understand the nature of each person’s symptoms and collaboratively decide which treatment will be most likely to help.

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