What we colloquially call the winter blues or winter depression is called Seasonal Affective Disorder and it is something that affects many during the dark winter months. It is also sometimes referred to as cabin fever.
Less frequently, Seasonal affective disorder (or SAD as it is known) can afflict a person in summer as well; which is known as Reverse Seasonal affective disorder. This is not so much a mood disorder as the indicator of a major depression, according to some experts.
It is observed in up to 10% of the population, and the further away from the equator that one is situated, the higher the chances of their developing SAD.
This problem can make itself felt for the first time to someone who moved, say from Hawaii to Alaska, SAD can manifest itself year after year in the following ways:
- A person may experience serious mood changes along with the change in season
- They may have feelings of lassitude, low energy levels and also feel little enjoyment of otherwise enjoyable activities and a general feeling of pessimism
- Many find it difficult to concentrate
- They may feel like sleeping all the time and not feel like getting up in the morning. There is a tendency to oversleep and put off facing the day so to speak
- There may be a sweet craving or the perceived need for more carbohydrates and a consequent weight gain
- Depression and heightened anxiety may also be observed and there is a tendency to withdraw from social intercourse
Bright Light Therapy is the most commonly used treatment for SAD, though research has shown that things like tanning beds have no positive impact on the condition except perhaps to elevate the mood temporarily at the perception of looking better than before.
Many affected people find using a light box to be a very effective method of getting rid of the winter blues. The timing of the light treatment (morning evening etc) is important for getting effective results.
Similar to light therapy is the Dawn Simulation, these can be effective within the first week; however they go on to be more effective when used continuously over several weeks.
Antidepressants such as fluoxetine, sertraline, or paroxetine may also be prescribed to deal with SAD.
Negative air ionization is also another treatment which involves the release of charged particles into the sleep environment.