Seasonal Affective Disorder

By John Nielsen, LCSW

We have shifted into the fall season in Utah at Heritage. It is a great opportunity to discuss the impacts seasonal changes have on mental health. Autumn usually brings shorter periods of daylight and crisp evenings. The leaves begin to change to yellow, orange and red. This is the beginning of a depressive phenomenon called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD for short.

Most research agrees that this type of depression can cause disruptions to our mental health. The symptoms may be subtle, just as the changes of the season in the fall.  Most clinical belief is our natural systems are in tune with the natural environment. When daylight becomes shorter, a natural adjustment in the brain takes place to ready organisms for the impending winter. Thus the human system prepares by shifting eating habits and daily routines. Activities that were easy to do in the summer sun shift to more sedentary and energy-conservation processes the body may need for the long winter.  These conditions can lead to a feeling of sadness and severe depression.

How can I recognize and what can I do about SAD, you might ask? If you or your children are noticing a decrease in normal productivity, homework missing, irritability on the increase, conversations feeling edgy or frustrated, isolating, shorter responses due to a lack of energy or a drastic shift in eating habits, it would be good to have a discussion with a mental health professional. Timely diagnosis and treatment have immediate impacts on SAD. With some creative shifts in routine, exposure to light, exercise, diet awareness and good sleep, the depressive side effects of SAD can be greatly diminished. Remember to keep the positive comments eight to one. These reminders can be the beginning of having a better winter while making an effort to feel active when the weather is cold and gloomy.