Seasonal Affective Disorder

As the days grow shorter and the temperatures cool, many people experience a feeling of “let down” or "winter blues" as the warmth of summer fades into the less active seasons of fall and winter. Seasonal Affective Disorder is the diagnosis used for people who are affected by depression during one certain time of the year mostly in fall and winter (although it has been noted in spring or summer). Between 4% and 6% of people in the United States suffer from SAD. Another 10% to 20% may experience a mild form of winter-onset SAD.

It is believed that the lack of sunlight triggers those affected by SAD. The vitamin D that comes from sunlight exposure is important for many body functions, including pain management and mental well-being. Some believe it is a throwback to earlier times when people would instinctively hibernate during the cooler months, staying indoors and out of the harsher temperatures, winds and snow. Researchers have also noted that people who live closer to the equator have less reported cases of SAD. Whatever its causes, SAD can be mild or severely debilitating, causing disruptions at work, home and with many other interpersonal relationships.

Nurse practitioners and medical professionals screen for SAD when a patient comes in with symptoms of depression. The main difference between SAD and other mild depression is the timing and pattern of depression that is attached to the calendar year. Symptoms of SAD include increased sleep and irritability, weight gain that may be caused by carbohydrate cravings, body aches (particularly in the arms or legs) and a reduced sex drive. When these symptoms present, it is important that your physician, nurse practioner, or other medical caregiver notes the presence of the symptoms as well as the severity. Treatments for SAD include phototherapy, anti-depressants, counseling, supplements or any combination therein.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a common ailment that falls under the diagnostic umbrella of depressive disorders. A skilled nurse or caring medical professional may be the greatest ally for a person who is fighting against their body’s natural need to hibernate and rest during the winter months, even while the demands of life, family and career continue to push that person ahead. With the right amount of sunlight, it is possible to help the effects of SAD on patients.

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