Dominion Hospital - February 22, 2019

Recognizing the signs of depression

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and depression share some of the same symptoms, so during winter months it can be difficult to tell them apart. While SAD can often be treated at home with DIY remedies, depression requires medical intervention. Learning about the symptoms of both can help you give a name to your blues - and determine if a loved one needs help.

Seasonal Affective Disorder impacts 4 to 6 percent of the population each year, and is caused by decreasing exposure to daylight during winter months. Women are two to three times more likely to experience SAD than men. It's no coincidence that many people feel blue during or after the holidays - those days also have the shortest amount of daylight and falling temperatures.

Symptoms of SAD

Symptoms of SAD include:

  • Feelings of sadness and depression during winter months.
  • Symptoms worsen when temperatures are low.
  • Low energy.
  • Daytime drowsiness.
  • Excessive sleep.
  • Over eating and strong cravings, especially sweets, and weight gain.
  • Occurs two or more years in a row.

Patients with SAD may respond to outdoor exercise and sitting next to a south-facing window at home and work. will increase your sunlight exposure. Staying warm, with layers, warm showers, and higher indoor temps, may help too. Maintaining a regular pattern of sleep, and your normal daily schedule, can keep depression at bay. You can even try your own form of light therapy by replacing the light bulbs in your bedroom and the rooms where you spend the most time, with brighter, full spectrum or broad-spectrum light bulbs that mimic natural light.

But what if self-care doesn't work? What if your feelings of sadness start to interfere with work, sleep and relationships? What if you feel worthless in addition to tired? These may be signs of major depression, also known as clinical depression.

Depression impacts 18.8 million American adults, with women twice as likely as men to develop symptoms. People with depression don't respond to increased sunlight and warmth to feel better. Treatment includes counseling, medication, or both.

Symptoms of depression

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Depressed mood, sad or an "empty" feeling
  • Appearing sad or tearful to others
  • Irritable
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting, or weight gain over a few weeks
  • Inability to sleep or excessive sleeping
  • Feeling slow or "dragging"
  • Loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness, or excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating, or indecisiveness
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

If you are experiencing five or more of these symptoms for most of the day, nearly every day, for two weeks (no matter what time of year it is) or your symptoms are severe enough to interfere with your daily activities, you may be experiencing depression.

Your primary care doctor is a good place to look for help. A complete physical can rule out any other issues that may be contributing to symptoms and there are screening tests for depression. Don't forget, SAD is a form of depression, so no matter what the weather or season, professional help is your first step.

Assess yourself for depression

Assess yourself for depression with a free, confidential online profiler from Dominion Hospital.