Seasonal Affective Disorder and Mental Health Professionals

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) “is a subtype of major depression, characterized by a recurrent pattern in which depressive episodes start in fall/winter and remit in spring.” Many people who live in Northern latitudes suffer from SAD symptoms during the winter months. What is more, often times, mental health professionals are tasked with providing recommendations to clients who are suffering from SAD symptoms.

So, what are some of the best treatment options for SAD patients?

In a study published in 2017, researchers looked at what are some of the best treatment options for SAD patients.

“Since decreased seasonal exposure to environmental light is thought to be a trigger for developing SAD,” the researchers write, “light therapy is the first line of treatment.” Light therapy, put simply, is a type of therapy where patients are exposed to a light source with certain wavelengths for a period of time. The thinking behind this type of treatment is that because patients are exposed to less light in the winter months, which triggers SAD symptoms, exposing them to an artificial light source will – the thinking goes – help “trick” their brains into making more chemicals that regulate moods.

The researchers write: “At the neurochemical level, changes in both the serotonergic and catecholaminergic transmitter systems seem to play key roles in SAD. Therefore,” they continue, “antidepressants have become the second choice of treatment.”

Antidepressants appear to be another treatment option for SAD patients, according to research.

Moreover, other treatment options for SAD patients include “agomelatine, melatonin, psychological interventions, as well as lifestyle and diet changes.” Of course, depending on the healthcare provider, all of the aforementioned treatment options are used to treat SAD patients. That said, however, it is important for mental health professionals to pick treatment options that have an evidential basis to them.

So, how many people are impacted by SAD symptoms in the winter months?

“In German-speaking countries,” [this is where the study we are using was conducted] “approximately 2.5% of the population suffers from SAD. About 80% of those diagnosed with this illness will face a recurrent depressive episode the following winter, which has detrimental effects on their quality of life. Five to 11 years following initial diagnosis, SAD resolves in only 14–18% of patients, persists in 22–42%, and develops into a non-seasonal major depression in 33–44% of patients,” the researchers write. Additionally, although the specific numbers vary, there remains some similarity among countries in northern latitudes.

Finally, although more research may be needed to help guide mental health professionals in their treatment decision making, some of the treatment options that are available seem to be impactful.

B. Nussbaumer-Streit, D. Winkler, M. Spies, S. Kasper and E. Pjrek. “Prevention of seasonal affective disorder in daily clinical practice: results of a survey in German-speaking countries,” BMC Psychiatry (2017) 17:247.

Brooke Lamberti

Brooke Lamberti is a content writer based out of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Marywood University, and has prior career experience working in social work and domestic violence advocacy. She has a passion for writing and helping others.

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