Seasonal Affective Disorder

 I am a 32-year-old assistant district attorney and am very happy in what seems to be a promising career. In fact, for the most part I am a happy, well adjusted person — that is except for the winter months. It seems like from December to April, I am chronically irritable, fatigued and unmotivated to do anything. I also constantly crave starchy foods and gain at least seven or eight pounds each winter. It’s tough to get out of bed, even on the weekends. I’m already dreading the fall. Care to comment?

Assuming that your situation is as straightforward as you say, it sounds like you have a classic case of “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” now conceptualized in the mental health field as clinical depression with a “seasonal pattern.” Symptoms like the ones you describe are very common with this type of depression. However, depression with a seasonal pattern can share any of the symptoms of depression, including the symptoms associated with Bipolar Disorder (depression that “cycles” from manic to depressive states, formerly called Manic Depression).

Seasonal pattern depression is thought to be caused by the prolonged darkness of winter, a time when the melatonin level in the body is high, causing a kind of hibernation. In the spring, when melatonin levels drop, a person “reawakens,” becoming more energized and motivated.

The good news is that you don’t have to wait for spring to feel better, as there are new treatments ranging from light therapy to antidepressants (both prescribed by a doctor), often with talk therapy. As with classic depression or Bipolar Disorder, you should seek help by talking with your primary care doctor or mental health professional. LCL also can assess your condition and make a referral. We recommend that you initiate treatment before the arrival of winter’s darker days as you will have a better opportunity to head off a severe episode of seasonal pattern depression.

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