Depression is a common mental illness that affects almost every human being at some point in their life. In the United States only, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 28 million individuals have suffered from depression.
One of the most common forms of depression is seasonal affective disorder. This is a type of depression that is marked by depression symptoms throughout the winter.
You will start feeling sleepy and lazy, and this will cause mood swings or changes in your personality.
Keep reading to learn more about the medications available to fight seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
People frequently experience several stages of depression throughout their life. Winter depression or winter-pattern depression are other names for seasonal affective disorder since it typically begins in the early winter or the late fall.
Major depressive episodes can occur for some young people in the spring and summer; this is less common and is known as summer-pattern SAD or summer depression.
SAD will be experienced mostly during seasonal changes, affecting the natural circadian rhythms and biological clocks set inside your body.
Your mental health care specialist may prescribe different prescription medications if you are going through seasonal affective disorder.
Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder
The causes of seasonal affective disorder are not clearly recognized, but it’s often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter days of autumn and winter.
The main reason behind this is that when sunlight is not available, then this will ultimately affect a major part of the brain called the hypothalamus.
The hypothalamus will not work correctly, which may affect the following:
Increased Production of Melatonin
The body will produce more of this hormone than is normally needed by an individual, exceeding typical levels. This causes you to feel sleepy, worsening symptoms of depression.
Decreased Production of Serotonin
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is produced by the body. Your emotions, sleep, and hunger are all impacted by this hormone. Lack of sunshine reduces serotonin levels, which are connected to depressive symptoms.
Internal Clock (Circadian Rhythm)
Many internal bodily processes, including when you wake up, are intimately correlated with the time of day, thanks to the sun. Therefore, seasonal affective disorder symptoms could result from your body clock being thrown off by decreasing light levels during the winter.
According to additional studies, people with SAD overproduce the hormone melatonin, which is necessary for maintaining a regular sleep-wake cycle. You may feel more sleepy if your melatonin levels are elevated.
The body’s daily rhythm, which is based on the cyclical pattern of the seasons’ night and day, is supported by both melatonin and serotonin. Serotonin and melatonin levels fluctuate in SAD sufferers, disrupting their typical daily routines.
They experience alterations in their sleep, temperament, and behavior as a result of their inability to adjust to the seasonal variations in day length.
Because SAD runs in families, there are instances when some people are genetically predisposed to developing it more than others.
Because it is thought that vitamin D encourages serotonin activity, a vitamin D shortage may result in an increase in these issues.
The body makes vitamin D when the skin is exposed to natural light or sunshine.
Vitamin D can also be ingested through diet. Since there is less sunlight in the winter than in the summer, patients with SAD have reduced vitamin D levels, which further suppress serotonin action.
SAD patients frequently have unpleasant thoughts and sentiments about winter and the restrictions and stressors that come with it. However, it is still uncertain whether negative thoughts are the causes or effects of SAD.
Medicating Seasonal Affective Disorder
SAD is a kind of depression that, like others, is associated with abnormalities in serotonin activity, and it is also treated with antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
SSRIs include citalopram, fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline, and escitalopram, which are some of the ones that are frequently prescribed.
Another type of antidepressant, bupropion, is licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). When used daily, starting in the fall and continuing into the early spring, this medicine avoids the recurrence of episodes of major seasonal depression.
All medications may have unfavorable side effects. With your doctor, go over any risks associated with using these medications to treat your disease.
You might need to try a few different antidepressants before finding one that lessens your symptoms without having unfavorable side effects.
SSRI medications are the first choice of every mental health expert when they prescribe medications for depression, as they have fewer side effects compared to other types of antidepressants that individuals usually take for overcoming depression.
SSRIs medications are used for the treatment of several other mental health conditions other than depression, which include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Panic disorder
- Mood disorders
- Severe phobias
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
There are some other conditions in which SSRIs are used for treatment, such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), Fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Occasionally, doctors prescribe these medications to cure physical pain also.
How SSRIs Work
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter. A neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger that carries signals between nerve cells in the brain. This neurotransmitter has a good impact on emotion, mood, and sleep.
Serotonin is often reabsorbed by the nerve cells after sending a message (known as “reuptake”). Since SSRIs prevent (“inhibit”) reuptake, more serotonin is available to transmit additional signals between neighboring nerve cells.
It would be oversimplified to claim that low serotonin levels are what causes depression and other mental health issues, but serotonin levels can rise, which can lessen symptoms and increase receptivity to other forms of treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Doses and Durations
SSRIs are usually consumed by individuals in pill form. When they are prescribed to you by a mental health expert, you will start with the lowest possible dose required to improve your symptoms.
It normally takes between two and four weeks before improvements are seen from SSRIs. Early on, you can encounter minor side effects, but these symptoms often subside soon. It’s crucial that you continue taking the medication even after you start to feel better.
Speak with your doctor or a mental health professional if you take an SSRI for four to six weeks without seeing any benefits. They might advise you to take a larger dose or try a different antidepressant.
Things to Consider
SSRIs are not suitable for everyone; every individual is different here. They are not recommended to you by doctors if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or under 18 because consuming them increases the risk of side effects.
However, exceptions can be made if the benefits of treatment are thought to outweigh the dangers and risks.
If you are going through health conditions such as epilepsy, kidney disease, and diabetes, then you should take SSRIs with great caution and care.
Certain over-the-counter medications and herbal therapies, such as St. John’s wort, can interact unexpectedly with some SSRIs.
To find out which medications you should never use, it is always a good idea to read the information booklet that comes with your SSRI medication or talk to your doctor about possible interactions.
Side Effects of SSRIs
Mainly, SAD patients will experience mild side effects when they consume SSRIs. These side effects can be troubling for you in the first go, but they will improve with time.
The following are the common side effects of SSRIs:
- Feeling shaky, anxious, or agitated.
- Diarrhea and feeling or being sick
- Blurred vision
- Loss of libido
- Difficulty in achieving orgasm during sex or masturbation.
- Erectile dysfunction
When you start taking the SSRIs, then you will need to go to the doctor after every few weeks for a discussion about how well the medicine is treating you.
You can also consult your healthcare provider at any point while taking medication if there are any persistent side effects.
Names of SSRIs
There are currently eight SRIs which are prescribed by healthcare professionals:
- Citalopram (Cipramil)
- Dapoxetine (Priligy)
- Escitalopram (Cipralex)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac or Oxactin)
- Fluvoxamine (Faverin)
- Paroxetine (Seroxat)
- Sertraline (Lustral)
- Vortioxetine (Brintellix)
Vitamin D Supplements
Although the evidence is unclear, vitamin D may aid SAD-related mood improvement.
According to one study, supplementing women with 5,000 IU (international units) of vitamin D daily throughout the winter dramatically decreased their SAD symptoms. Another study did not discover any symptom improvement from vitamin D treatment.
Although the evidence is unclear, vitamin D may aid SAD-related mood improvement.
Low sunlight levels in winter may be one reason why people experience vitamin D deficiency and SAD in winter.
Another reason for vitamin D deficiency is that people are more likely to wear sunscreen outside to protect themselves from ailments like skin cancer and early aging.
Although vitamin D is primarily recognized for its advantages in bone protection, it also contributes significantly to sustaining happiness and general well-being.
Serotonin, a key neurotransmitter for mood, happiness, and other good emotions, is controlled by vitamin D. As a result, decreased serotonin activity during the winter may be caused by lower vitamin D levels.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?
Seasonal affective disorder is a condition that makes an individual feel depressed as there is a decrease in daylight hours and exposure to the sun. There are some effective treatments for individuals suffering from this type of mental health condition and mental illness. Moreover, antidepressant medicines are also given to individuals going through this.
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