Seasonal changes impact individuals in a variety of ways including what people wear, means of transportation, and recreational activity options. Physical health and mental health can also be impacted due to the environmental changes that take place as the seasons change from summer to fall to winter. Not only do common colds and allergies become more common during these seasonal changes, but people also experience changes in their mental health symptoms. According to the American Psychiatric Association, major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern is a recognized form of depression. However, unlike individuals with major depressive disorder (who experience symptoms year round), those with major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern primarily experience mood changes and symptoms during the fall and winter months and tend to be asymptomatic during the spring and summer months.
Seasonal changes and daylight savings can cause individuals to experience a shift in their biological internal clock. Research suggests that major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern is associated with a biochemical imbalance in the brain that is triggered by less exposure to daylight hours and sunlight. This condition is more common in people who live farther away from the equator where there are fewer daylight hours in the winter months. Major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern is more common in women than men and nearly 5 percent of adults in the United States are diagnosed.
The American Psychiatric Association recommends the following treatment options:
Light therapy involves sitting in front of a light therapy box that emits very bright light (and filters out harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays). It usually requires 20 minutes or more a day, typically first thing in the morning, during the winter. Most people see some improvements from light therapy within one or two weeks of beginning treatment.
Cognitive behavior therapy, which can be applied in individual and group therapy settings, can effectively address symptoms of major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the type of antidepressant most commonly prescribed by medical providers including primary care physicians and psychiatrists, and may be able to relieve symptoms of major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern.
If you feel you have symptoms of major depressive disorder, seek the help of a trained medical professional. For those who are interested in receiving outpatient mental health treatment, Intercommunity Action Inc. offers clinical intakes on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30am-10:30am.
Author: Nicole Henriquez, M.S.
American Psychiatric Association. (2017). Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/seasonal-affective-disorder.