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Seasonal Affective Disorder

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Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is commonly described as a form of depression that is associated with biological rhythms. While seasonal affective disorder does not appear in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR, 2000) as a separate disorder, the option of diagnosing a mood disorder with a seasonal pattern is available. In this way, clinicians can specify a mood disorder with a seasonal pattern if a patient only experiences the mood disorder during a specific time of the year.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

The majority of sufferers of seasonal affective disorder are women. The onset of seasonal affective disorder appears to be during early adulthood. Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include depression, irritability, increased sleeping habits, increased eating habits or weight gain, reduced ability to concentrate, and social withdrawal. The Seasonal Pattern Assessment Questionnaire was developed for the diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder.

Most people affected by seasonal affective disorder experience their symptoms during the winter, although a summer version of the disorder also exists. Days are shorter during the winter months and individuals are less likely to be outside during the cold weather. Current theories suggest seasonal affective disorder is caused by an irregularity in circadian rhythms.

Treatment for seasonal affective disorder includes light therapy. A majority of patients improve after several hours of exposure to bright artificial light during the day. Experiencing additional artificial light in the morning appears to help even out circadian rhythms, providing individuals with relief from symptoms after a few weeks. Seasonal affective disorder symptoms will also get better without treatment after a change in the seasons.

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