6 Things You Should Know About Seasonal Affective Disorder to Help a Loved One Cope
By Laura Baker
If you have a loved one who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or even a milder case of the winter blues, you may feel a bit helpless, wanting to do something to lift their spirits but not knowing where to start. Many people experience feelings of sadness, depression, and increased anxiety during the winter. Understanding what SAD is and how it affects people is the first key to figuring out how you can help.
1. A lack of sunlight in the winter months is the biggest contributor to SAD.
One of the biggest contributors to SAD is the lack of environmental light in the winter months. During the shortest days of the year, many people leave for work while it’s still dark in the morning and drive home after the sun has already gone down, and that means people are exposed to substantially less natural sunlight than they typically are during the long, bright summer days. Walking can be a great way to get regular exercise, sunlight, and in some cases, even some extra income.
2. Other risk factors increase the odds of experiencing SAD as well.
There are other factors that make some people more likely to experience SAD as well, such as those with family members who also experience SAD and people who have other forms of depression. Additionally, women are far more likely to develop SAD than men; four out of five people with the disorder are women.
3. The symptoms of SAD overlap with depression.
Because SAD is a seasonal form of depression, it makes sense that the symptoms are quite similar. The primary differentiator that distinguishes SAD from depression is its seasonal nature; people who have symptoms that continue long after the winter months may have depression rather than SAD.
4. SAD is, in fact, a sub-type of major depression, not a less-severe form.
One common misconception about SAD is the widespread belief that it’s a less-severe form of major depression. The reality is that SAD can be just as severe and is considered a sub-type (or “specifier”) of major depression. In other words, just because a loved one tends to experience symptoms only during certain times of the year doesn’t mean that their mental illness should be taken any less seriously.
5. A variety of treatment options and coping techniques may help to ease the symptoms of SAD.
Treatments for other types of depression, such as prescription anti-depressant medications, are often effective for managing SAD. Like other forms of depression, regular physical activity, ample sleep, and a healthy, balanced diet can also help. But for SAD, there are even more options, including light therapy, optimizing a person’s daily schedule in such a way as to maximize exposure to daylight, and even strategically timed vacations to sunny locations to benefit from a prolonged period spent in direct, bright sunlight.
6. There are many ways you can help a loved one cope with SAD.
Many loved ones of people struggling with any form of depression may feel helpless. But you don’t have to stand idly by and hope for the best; take action to get your loved one involved in activities that require socialization such as volunteering or other social activities, suggest treatment options like light therapy, or purchase a few essential items for a home gym to encourage regular exercise.
Seasonal Affective Disorder may be a disorder that impacts people only during certain times of the year, but that doesn’t make its impact any less significant on a person’s daily life. As a loved one of someone struggling to cope with SAD, understanding how the disorder works is the first step in becoming an important part of their support system and identifying actionable ways to help.
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