SAD or MDD? Seasonal Affective Disorder

Jenna Bigham, LSW
Social Services Director
Abbyshire Skilled Nursing & Rehab Center

Feeling gloomy may seem like an ordinary reaction to the fading glow of the holidays and the darker winter months. When that feeling of sadness persists for more than a week or two, it’s a red flag.

Seasonal Affective DisorderSeasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression those cycles with the seasons. It can occur during any time of the year. SAD most often affects folks during winter months. As the weather gradually gets colder and the days get shorter, folks who are affected by winter-induced affective disorder will generally begin to feel the symptoms of depression. Signs of SAD include a loss of energy, irritability and changes in appetite. Changes in sleeping habits are common. Loss of interest in socializing and other activities my occur. According to the National Institutes of Health, Seasonal Affective Disorder is more prevalent in women. It also affects people who live further from the equator, where the sun is not as strong or constant.

The main difference between SAD and general depression is that SAD only strikes during certain times of the year. A decline in the amount of daylight during fall and winter affects circadian rhythms and causes hormonal changes that lead to depressive symptoms in people with SAD. These effects can be compounded if a person cannot or does not want to regularly spend time outdoors. This particularly impacts those people who are housebound or live in areas prone to ice and snow.

Falls and hypothermia are likely to top the list of caregiver concerns during the icy winter months. It is important for us to keep in mind that our elders are also at risk for some lesser-known health hazards. Examples include vitamin D deficiency and as already mentioned Seasonal Affective Disorder.