Martha Jefferson Monday: What is Seasonal Affective Disorder? - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Martha Jefferson Monday: What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder, often referred to as seasonal depression, occurs when depression symptoms are present in some seasons and go away in others.

"It's normal to have down days for everyone, but it people who are suffering from seasonal depression, they are having down days every day," commented Dr. Kathy Phan, a physician at Forest Lakes Family Medicine.

Dr. Phan says the most common type has a fall onset and then goes away in the spring. However, there's no scientific reason behind why seasonal depression occurs.

"There are some theories that there is a disruption of the circadian clock inside our heads which controls our sleep and wake cycles, so that disruption because of the time change and darkness can trigger depression," noted Dr. Phan. "There are also indications that serotonin, which is that happy hormone in our heads that helps control our moods, goes down when the sunlight goes down. Those are kind of the working hypotheses right now."

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include feelings of hopelessness, weight gain and social withdrawal. However, there are treatments that can help a patient who is suffering.

"The most common treatment is something we call light therapy," noted Dr. Phan. "During this type of treatment, a special light is used, and you basically sit in front of the light for about 30 minutes a day. The idea is to make more serotonin to help regulate the circadian clock and see if that makes things better."

If light therapy isn't enough, an anti-depressant therapy can be tried. It's important with all treatment options that you work with your physician to determine what's best.

For more information on this topic, call Health Connection at (434) 654-7009.

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