Could Your “Winter Blues” Actually Be Depression?

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Ever wondered why your mood drops like the temperature during winter? It might be more than just a case of winter blues…

You could be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a condition where individuals experience episodes of major depression. These episodes tend to recur at specific times of the year, manifesting in either the form of major depression or bipolar disorders. “SAD is so much more than just a feeling of seasonal sadness. It is a depression that presents with significant symptoms that are severe and persistent and recurrent, and prevent a person from performing basic functions during the season in which they are affected,” says Dr Theona Ballyram, specialist psychiatrist at the Akeso Clinic in Parktown.

The condition is characterised by feelings of depression, lethargy, anxiety, hopelessness, social withdrawal, changes in appetite, sleep patterns and inability to concentrate.

SAD can hit during winter or summer months, but more frequently occurs during winter. “Those affected by Winter Seasonal Affective Disorder tend to experience an increase in lethargy and appetite and an inability to wake up, while those affected by Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder tend to experience an increase in anxiety and insomnia, coupled with a decrease in appetite,” says Ballyran.

She warns that the condition can incapacitate those affected by it, whichever way the condition presents itself. SAD’s tendency to remit and recur actually complicates diagnosis as patients feel they have healed once the season ends and therefore often puts looking for help on the back burner, she says.

The condition is not yet fully understood, but changes in temperature and sunlight affect some people’s internal body clock which can disrupt serotonin and melatonin levels, together creating a severe depressive episode.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is, however, treatable. “There are a range of anti-depressants and mood stabilisers that have proven to be quite successful in the treatment of SAD, especially with the adjunctive use of melatonin and even the likes of light therapy,” says Ballyram. She however believes in a multi-disciplinary approach for holistic treatment.