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Clinical Q&A

Defending Against Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Pedro Bonilla, MD, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth

Now that fall is in full swing, we have turned the clocks back, the sun sets earlier in the day and the temperatures have begun to drop. For anyone who lives in New England, this is an annual occurrence. For people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), however, a type of depression linked to the decreased sunlight during fall and winter months, it can cause them to feel more gloomy than usual. SAD can affect anyone and is most common among people ages 15 to 55 with a family history of depression.

We spoke with Pedro Bonilla, MD, from the Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital – Plymouth’s Department of Psychiatry, to find out more about living with SAD and how to alleviate some of its symptoms.

Q: What causes SAD and how can I recognize it?
SAD is Major Depression that follows a seasonal pattern. It can present at other times of the year, but typically takes place in the fall and winter season. It is contributed to by personal vulnerability and caused by a decreased amount of sunlight during those months, which can affect your sleep/wake cycle and other important internal biological processes. If you feel overcome by sadness, lose interest in everyday activities, suffer an increase in appetite and somnolence and if those feelings happen consistently at the same time of year, for over a two year span, suspect SAD.

Q: Who is most at risk for developing SAD?
It is more common in people living in higher latitudes where winter daylight hours are short, like New England. It is also more common in younger adults and in females. Elders can suffer SAD but would likely have experienced it earlier in life as well.

Q: What can I do to alleviate SAD symptoms?
Here are some suggestions:
• Get outside • Socialize with friends and family • Exercise: at least 3x per week for 30 minutes • Sleep at least seven hours and avoid sleeping more than nine hours. • Try to go to bed at same time each night and if possible time it so you start waking up with natural daylight • Look for the light; pick the sunny window, the sunny side of the sidewalk, etc • Explore new interests and continue to engage in existing ones

Treatment options include antidepressant medication, Psychotherapy and also Bright Light Treatment which is becoming more popular but is still an underutilized way to alleviate symptoms.

Q: When should I see my doctor about SAD?
Talk to your healthcare provider or seek medical help if your SAD symptoms are moderate or severe, impact daily function or relationships or if you feel a sense of lack of hope or are experiencing negative thoughts of self-harm. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any questions regarding your SAD symptoms.

Think you may be experiencing SAD? Contact a BID-Plymouth specialist to find out more about alleviating your symptoms. Visit today.

275 Sandwich Street
Plymouth, MA 02360
(508) 746-2000

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