Seasonal Affective Disorder: Symptoms and Treatment

by Christina Bruni Patient Expert

I've wanted to write about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for some time now.
This is a part-time yet devastating illness that starts in the fall or late fall and continues through the beginning of spring.
It is brought on by a lack of sunlight.

Those of us who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder can tend to get depressed during the fall and winter months.
We could cry more or be sadder than usual.

Symptoms of SAD are fatigue, depression, crying spells, irritability, trouble concentrating, body aches, loss of sex drive, poor sleep, decreased activity level, and overeating, especially of carbohydrates, leading to weight gain.

My story is odd yet true and I'll tell it to you now.
For about five or six years, I had Seasonal Affective Disorder.
It started in the fall and continued through to and stopped miraculously on the first day of spring.
It stopped.
On the first day of spring.
Every year.

I would be in tears for an hour or two on most nights in the fall and winter.
I wondered what guy would want to marry a crybaby.
Though I was once told I might have SAD I thought nothing of it and simply continued to be in tears.

Then an odd thing happened.
I began seeing a new pdoc in July 2003 and he raised my SZ meds dose from 5 mg to 10 mg.
In the fall of 2003, my Seasonal Affective Disorder had stopped completely.

At about the same time, I began taking a daily dose of Omega-3 Fish Oil that is known to alleviate depression as well as promote heart health.

No professional ever verified why my SAD jags suddenly stopped on their own.
My own suspicion is that my mood improved because I was taking the Omega-3.
This can't be a coincidence.

You might ask why I suffered in silence for five years or more.
A professional didn't ever diagnose my Seasonal Affective Disorder nor was this illness treated with medication or therapy.

What kind of person was I that I allowed this to go on and on for possibly over five years?
I have no idea why I didn't consult with any pdoc about this.

My recommendation:

You do things differently.
You research treatment options for SAD.
These options include:

Light therapy. (Those with bipolar have to be careful because light therapy or an antidepressant can potentially trigger a manic episode.)

With light therapy, you sit a few feet away from a light therapy box so that you're exposed to bright light. This light appears to cause a change in the chemicals related to mood because the light mimics outdoor light.

Light therapy starts to work in two to four days and has little side effects.

Consult with your psychiatrist to see if light therapy would be good for you and to investigate the best kind of box to buy.

Severe SAD symptoms might require anti-depressants.
The common ones used to treat SAD are Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac or Sarafem, and Effexor.

An extended-release version of the antidepressant bupropion (Wellbutrin XL) may help prevent depressive episodes in people with a history of seasonal affective disorder.

It could take several weeks to see the anti-depressant kick in.

Psychotherapy is sometimes used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder as well. You learn coping skills to deal with the stress of the negative thoughts and feelings about the SAD.

Get help if you experience any of these symptoms and they are interfering with your ability to live a good life.
I have no idea why I didn't get help although one thing is clear:
I had no idea I was experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder.

It didn't occur to me that this was happening because of a biochemical disorder.
I simply thought it was something I could control if I worked harder at it.

There you have it.
How a person could suffer in silence for years.
I urge you not to make the mistake I did.
I also live in the Northeast so the lack of sunlight is even greater in the fall and winter around here.

My last recommendation is to take Omega-3 Fish Oil gel caps and also Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) year-round.
These pills alleviate depression.
Omega-3 Fish Oil in one study halted psychosis as well.

I'm convinced the Omega-3 Fish Oil cured my SAD because it's the fall now and all last week when I didn't take the Omega-3 I was in a funk.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is no joke.
I'm not crying anymore and I credit the Omega-3 Fish Oil for this miraculous turnaround.

Get help.
You are not alone.
SAD is treatable.

I will return in November with a news article about social skills training for individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Christina Bruni
Meet Our Writer
Christina Bruni

Christina Bruni wrote about schizophrenia for HealthCentral as a Patient Expert. She is a mental health activist and freelance journalist.