Updated: Apr 6
Winter depression, sometimes referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a relatively new diagnosis for a phenomenon that humans have known about for years. For centuries, people in colder climates wrote about feeling sadder or more depressed in the winter. In recent years, multiple studies showed that people in very northern countries would have higher rates of suicide and depression in winter than their counterparts in warmer, sunnier locations.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, has several warning signs that people should be aware of.
You live far from the equator.
Areas of the globe far away from the equator have longer periods of darkness each day during the winter than those near the equator. This fact and the fact that people in these areas report higher rates of depression and suicidal thinking have led many experts to believe that the lack of exposure to sunlight is the primary cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
In fact, this condition is believed to affect nearly 10 million Americans. It is nearly seven times more common in Washington than in Florida. If you live in one of these areas, it is important to be aware of the signs of this disorder and to be on the lookout for them. Seasonal Affective Disorder can affect anyone, but people who work indoors and rarely see the sun when it's out in the wintertime can be particularly vulnerable.
You're a woman between 18 and 45 with a history of depression.
While anyone can suffer from SAD, over three-quarters of SAD patients are women who first started having symptoms during their child-bearing years. The exact reasons for this are not known. It has been theorized that hormonal changes during these years make women particularly vulnerable. Of course, it may also be that women are more likely to seek out therapy and other depression treatments, essentially skewing the number to show that women are much more vulnerable to this condition.
A personal or family history of depression will also increase your risk for SAD. Keep in mind that this is true no matter your gender or age. While women may be the most vulnerable, it is also possible for men, children, and the elderly to experience SAD.
You crave carbohydrates from November to March
Eating more carbohydrates when the weather is colder is common in both animals and people. Individuals with Seasonal Affective Disorder, however, will tend to eat a lot more than usual. One possible reason is that your body makes a chemical called serotonin when you eat carbohydrates. This is the same chemical that many prescription antidepressants are designed to increase.
In other words, over-consuming carbohydrates is the body's way of trying to recreate the effects of antidepressants. This is not nature's way of making antidepressants, however. Overconsuming any macronutrient can be harmful, and carbohydrates are one of the worst. In the short term, this can lead to issues such as bloating and weight gain. Over several months or years, overconsuming this nutrient can lead to serious conditions such as Type II diabetes.
You wish you could hibernate all winter
Sure, plenty of people joke about wanting to sleep all winter like a bear, but sleep issues are both one of the primary causes and symptoms of depression. People suffering from SAD will typically feel much more tired during winter. Again, the exact reasons behind this are unknown, but it is theorized that a low amount of serotonin signals the brain to sleep more. Another theory is that low serotonin levels force the brain to become less active so that it can dedicate more energy to producing the chemical.
Winter's lack of daylight may also reduce a body's natural rhythm. In particular, people who tend to sleep when it's a dark struggle with the extra hours of darkness from living in a cold climate.
The result is that people with SAD may also have difficulty sleeping. Of course, this leads to patients feeling even more fatigued, which will cause them to sleep more during the day. Over time, this can lead to patients having a highly abnormal sleep schedule during the winter, causing a wide range of problems.
You feel as if you're counting the days until spring
If you feel like your sadness goes away in March or April every year, you likely suffer from SAD and may want to see a therapist like John Maret Counseling. This is particularly true if you feel this way year after year, with feelings of sadness setting in around October or November and not lifting until the Spring.
Not all SAD sufferers will have their feelings improve in the Spring. Some patients experience year-round sadness and depression, but the feelings worsen in the winter. This may be another type of depression that is either made worse in the winter or a case of SAD that "turned into" a full-time depression.
If you're experiencing these warning signs, visit us at John Maret Counseling. Our counselors have years of experience diagnosing this disorder and multiple other types of depression. Letting this go untreated can lead to a number of more serious issues, including decreased mental health, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts.
Do not let this take over your life! Contact us at John Maret Counseling and let us help you find a counselor who can help you today.