Do I Have SAD

Do I Have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) ?

Are You Feeling Blue? Could It Be SAD?

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 2-3% of Canadians are likely to suffer from SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, at some point in their lives.

Another 15% will likely suffer from a milder form of seasonal depression that will leave them feeling slightly depressed.

SAD accounts for up to 10% of all types of depression.

Research Findings

Adults are more prone to developing SAD than children or teenagers. This may be due to adults spending more time indoors. The good news is that the prevalence of SAD seems to abate after age 50. The reason for this is unknown.

Women are up to 8 times more likely to report SAD. Speculation is that women may spend more time indoors with children and thus have less exposure to the outdoors. Another possibility, is that women may be more likely to seek help for mental illness than men.

SAD is thought to run in certain families. There is a 13-17% chance that a person suffering from seasonal affective disorder may have a direct family relative with the disorder.

Clinical Experience

According to Norman Rosenthal, author of one the most detailed accounts of SAD and its treatment, in his book Winter Blues, the sun’s rays actually start to diminish in mid-August!

As of today, September 9th, the sun has been diminishing for almost a month. What I have noticed, is that people who tend to suffer from seasonal affective disorder tend to experience a gradual decrease in wellness, and can find themselves to be quite severely depressed come October and November. February seems to be a very difficult month for depression sufferers as well.

This is what I would call, “the creeping” approach of depression.

Importance of Vitamin D

Rosenthal goes on to state, that anybody living north of Atlanta Georgia is NOT likely to receive enough sunshine, and therefore vitamin D in the winter months!

We in Canada, are a long way from Atlanta and optimal vitamin D levels in the winter!

Therefore in the very least, it would seem prudent to supplement with additional vitamin D during the winter months. Tests can be conducted at your doctor’s office to determine your level of vitamin D. There is a fee for such tests last that I heard unfortunately.

It may be well worth ensuring optimum levels of vitamin D in our system, as recent research has pointed to the many benefits of vitamin D to our system in helping to prevent such illnesses as: cancer, diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

Those of us living on Vancouver Island and the West Coast, or the “Wet” Coast as it is sometimes called, may be more prone to suffering the effects of seasonal affective disorder and may wish to ensure that you get out and get some all important exposure to the sun’s rays.

What Are The Signs Of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

If you have certain of these following signs, and find that they are seasonal in nature, you may have SAD:

  • I feel like sleeping all the time, or I’m having trouble getting a good night’s sleep
  • I’m tired all the time, it makes it hard for me to carry out daily tasks
  • My appetite has changed, particularly more cravings for sugary and starchy foods
  • I’m gaining weight
  • I feel sad, guilty and down on myself
  • I feel hopeless
  • I’m irritable
  • I’m avoiding people or activities I used to enjoy
  • I feel tense and stressed
  • I’ve lost interest in sex and other physical contact
  • Thoughts of suicide, or wishing to harm yourself

(List of symptoms courtesy of Canadian Mental Health Association)

If you find yourself having thoughts of harming yourself, please contact your doctor immediately, or call your local crisis line, or dial 911. Please consult the resources section of my site for crisis line numbers on Vancouver Island.

A visit to your doctor, may also diagnose any underlying health problems that could be contributing to your mental health condition.

Please note, it is important not to self-diagnose yourself. Seek expert medical attention if you think that you may be suffering from depression.

Known Treatments For SAD

Below is a list of known treatments that have been effective in treatment seasonal affective disorder:

  • Light therapy is often an effective method for treating SAD. The use of a light box for 30 minutes in the early morning has proven to be quite effective for many SAD sufferers. Those suffering from manic conditions may wish to be careful when employing light therapy as it may trigger a manic episode.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to be equally effective in treating the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. A therapist trained in CBT can help a client to break negative thought patterns that may be contributing to, or aggravating existing depressive feelings.  CBT has been found to be particularly effective at preventing relapse at the 1 and 2 year mark.
  • Medication can help ease the symptoms of depression, by helping to boost the levels of certain neurotransmitters thought to be implicated in depression. Please consult with your doctor for medications most suited for the treatment of SAD.
  • Exercise, and any exposure to the sun’s rays will likely help to improve mood and boost one’s levels of vitamin D.
  • Good healthy food will help insure that your body and brain is getting all the nutrients that it needs to manufacture all of those feel-good chemicals that we so need.
  • Vitamins and supplements may play a key role in ensuring that our bodies get the nutrients necessary to provide the necessary precursors for healthy neurotransmitter production.
  • Dawn simulators – these devices are specially manufactured clocks that are equipped with a light that will gradually increase in intensity to mimic a natural sunrise. It is believed that by simulating a natural sunrise and sunset, that we are affecting the levels of melatonin in our system and contributing to sounder, healthier sleep patterns. Getting sufficient sleep is a key part of mental health, and many people suffering from depression also seem to suffer from impaired sleeping patterns. Melatonin itself is not only a key component of healthy sleep, but is also thought to be a very powerful antioxidant in the body and may play a role in cancer prevention.
  • Listening to music has been shown to raise our moods and could be a helpful and fun treatment option. But happy tunes will not be enough to address the full suffering of SAD.
  • Plan a sunny vacation: Probably my favourite option. I would love to write a prescription, if I could, for every SAD sufferer to a tropical holiday getaway of their choice!
  • Volunteering: Interestingly, volunteering or helping people has been shown to boost mood and feelings of well-being. Some of the benefits may come from altruistic acts, while other benefits may come from taking the focus off of one’s own problems and reaching out to extend help to others.

Final Note:

It is often better to prevent disease, than to go through a possibly lengthy recovery process!

With a condition like seasonal affective disorder, it may take a few years before you can put the pieces together and notice that your moods dip greatly, and with recurring regularity at certain times of the year.

Once you know that you are prone to seasonal affective disorder, then you are primed to take preventive action before your depressive symptoms become too severe.

One very last point, depression can often encroach upon our moods in a very subtle manner. For that reason, it might be prudent to listen to the words of those closest to us, loved ones and friends,  when they tell us that we seem to be off or not ourselves. Perhaps they are noticing something that we have yet to detect in ourselves?

Good luck this fall and winter. Keep warm and keep well!

If you feel that this article may be of use to someone, please feel free to pass it along. And if you would like help in dealing with recurring negative thought patterns, please feel free to contact me, and I would be happy to assist you.




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About Ron Lafleur

I am a counsellor in private practice specializing in couples therapy.

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