Seasonal Affective Disorder

If you live in Toronto, you know that winter means two things: the sun setting at 4pm, and snow. Lots of snow. Many people leave their homes before the sun rises and leave work after the sun sets.

During this time, some people may feel a significant decrease in their mood. If this happens to you, you may be suffering from a form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder.

What is it? – SAD is a form of depression that generally occurs in people during fall and winter, when we have less sunlight available to us.

Who does it affect? – it CAN affect anyone, but people who are generally more affected by SAD are: adults <50, women, and people who live further from the equator (like us in Canada!)

There is no proven cause, but the theory with the most evidence suggests that this happens due to the lack of sunlight during this time of year. When the timing of sunrise and sunset changes so drastically, it can cause changes in your circadian rhythm.

What does that mean? – these changes can affect your levels of vitamin D, serotonin, dopamine and melatonin. These together can cause symptoms of depression such as feelings of sadness, difficulty concentrating, and an increased need for sleep (among many others).

Treatment options –
Light therapy has proven to be effective for reducing the symptoms of SAD. Light therapy lamps are available for public use all over the GTA for free.
St. John’s wort is effective for relieving symptoms of mild-moderate depression
Vitamin D – the research is mixed on whether or not vitamin D is implicated in SAD
Fish oil – studies have shown that high EPA fish oils in decreasing the symptoms of depression
CBT – cognitive behavioural therapy and other psychotherapies are an extremely useful tool for people who are experiencing mental health disturbances

Please consult a healthcare provider if you feel you are experiencing these symptoms, and always before starting any treatment.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call 911, visit your local emergency room, call a friend or family member, or call the Toronto Distress Centre at 416 407 4357 if you are in the Toronto area.