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Seasonal Pattern Depression

Seasonal Affective Disorder, now officially known as Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern, is a type of depression that tends to occur during the late fall and winter, with periods of normal mood during the rest of the year.

Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health initially linked this condition to reduced light levels and used bright light therapy to help ease its symptoms. They also found that the neurotransmitter serotonin may not function optimally in many people with this disorder.

The prevalence of this disorder can vary based on factors such as where you live, your age, and your gender:

It’s more common in people living in northern areas.

  • Younger individuals are at a higher risk.
  • Women are more likely to experience it than men.
  • Symptoms of this disorder differ from classic depression.

Instead of losing weight and experiencing insomnia, people with this disorder often gain weight and sleep too much. Common symptoms include excessive sleep, daytime fatigue, overeating, weight gain, and craving for carbohydrates.

Recognizing the Signs

  • Reduced interest in sex
  • Lethargy
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Thoughts of self-harm
  • Less interest in usual activities and social interactions

Diagnosing Seasonal Pattern Depression
Diagnosing this condition relies on recognizing the seasonal pattern of symptoms. Symptoms usually start in late fall or early winter and improve in spring. For an official diagnosis, this pattern must repeat for at least two years without any non-seasonal episodes. You might not get this diagnosis after your first experience of symptoms, so tracking them can help when discussing your condition with mental health professionals, especially given the hereditary nature of mood disorders.

Ways to Treat Seasonal Pattern Depression
Treatment typically includes antidepressants, cognitive behavioral therapy, and physical exercise. Unlike other depression types, light therapy can also help. This involves daily exposure to a “lightbox” simulating sunlight. Some primary care physicians can treat this condition, but if you still have difficulties despite treatment, consider consulting a psychiatrist.

Planning is crucial for those with this pattern. If you notice it in your own experience, consider strategies like increasing exercise as summer ends, starting therapy in September, using light therapy in October, or planning a sunny vacation in January. Some people may only need treatment during the symptomatic season, while others may prefer year-round treatment.