We abbreviate medical names for convenience, but the abbreviation of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) also happens to describe a key aspect of this condition — sadness. The full name clearly indicates how this form of depression flares up at certain times of the year. This contrasts with the more familiar kinds of depression that link to events in the person’s life, chemical imbalances in their body, or severe emotional problems. In common with the other depression types, SAD affects individuals to various degrees of severity. With SAD and all other kinds of depression, whoever finds it impossible to cope must seek medical help.
The winter of my discontent
William Shakespeare was not referring to depression when he wrote these famous words over four hundred years ago, but we might apply them to someone who suffers from SAD. It usually affects people in the fall (autumn) and winter months. Sufferers from SAD start to feel low as the trees shed their leaves and the days become shorter. Many of us prefer to see a blue sky and sunshine rather than a grey sky and rain, but our complaints and frustration do not develop into a depression. This change in seasons physically and emotionally affects SAD sufferers in a much more profound way. This is why some refer to SAD as the winter depression.
The extreme form of SAD is so severe that the sufferer might start to think or even speak about suicide. They lose their perspective on life. Everything suddenly appears so grim and gloomy that there seems to be no point in continuing. Dismissing talk of suicide is easy. After all, most people who speak in this way do not go ahead and harm themselves, but even a small risk is not worth taking. If someone confides in you how he or she feels suicidal, bring this to the attention of a doctor or other medical expert.
Sleeping much more than usual
Those with SAD are likely to sleep much longer than usual, and they need additional sleeping time. They might lack the motivation to get out of bed in the morning and go to work or school. Only close family and friends are likely to recognize this symptom. Parents of teenagers might see oversleeping and reluctance to get out of bed in the morning as their regular behavior rather than a symptom of depression. However, for many other individuals they do notice a real seasonal change in their sleeping and waking patterns, and this could well be a sign of SAD.
Snacking your way out of depression
Some depressed people tend to overeat and put on weight. You might notice that someone with SAD suddenly develops a craze for potato chips or other foods high in carbohydrates. These kinds of snacks really do seem to offer them some temporary relief from the depression, but it could be at the expense of their general health. A treat now and again cannot do much harm, but if they put on weight, they increase their risks of developing other kinds of health problems.
A loss of interest in favorite activities
Suppose someone is very fond of cycling or going to concerts. In the spring and summer months they were very much involved in these kinds of activities, but once the fall comes, they withdraw. They brush off invitations to come out and appear disinterested in events they have been keenly following. This change in attitudes and loss of enthusiasm for social life is a classic symptom of SAD. Friends need to show understanding and avoid assuming something they might have done or said caused this upset.
Difficulties in focusing
SAD sufferers find it harder to concentrate during the season when their depression flares up. Even if they understood their school lessons well a couple of months ago, now everything becomes fuzzy, or they might find their regular work tasks become harder. Some of them describe their feelings as those of a person surrounded by a thick fog. They use “fog” as an analogy for the mental blockage that interferes with their powers of concentration.
Troubles relating to other people
Those with SAD tend to want to withdraw from society when the change in season starts to affect them. It seems like they want to lock themselves away like a hibernating animal until they again find the strength to face the outside world. They often become very irritable and find fault with everything when this depression grips them. They may be pleasant company during other seasons, but everything changes when the nights start to lengthen.
Loss of self-esteem
In common with the other varieties of depression, sufferers from SAD often lose self-esteem. They convince themselves that their low feeling accurately reflects their worthlessness. Their lack of self-esteem manifests itself in different ways. It might cause the SAD sufferer to doubt their ability to succeed in their chosen fields. It might even lessen their inhibitions over engaging in certain anti-social behavior. Everything depends on the severity of the SAD and the individual’s nature.
Overcome with anxiety
SAD often brings in its wake a heightened sense of anxiety and stress. Unless someone is familiar with the form this condition takes, it is hard to understand these worries and anxieties. Without proper guidance and medications, (where necessary) the seasonally triggered depression gives rise to all kinds of fears. It is as though some external force has taken control of your emotions and altered your perspectives on life. It is natural to be anxious and disturbed in these kinds of situations.
A tendency to cry
Those suffering from SAD might go through a crying spell. We all understand how humans respond with tears to sad news, and sometimes they shed tears of joy at very happy times. All the same, it seems strange if someone bursts into tears without any event or news as the apparent trigger. However, if we realize how SAD distorts the sufferer’s emotional balance their tearful outbursts ceases to be so surprising.