Seasonal Affective Disorder in young adults

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is not only diagnosed in older adults. It can affect young adults starting at age 18.

A young woman looking out the window with a cup of coffee in her hand.
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For many people, the winter holiday season is a joyous time filled with family, friends, gatherings and great food. But for some, it can be the opposite, causing stress, sadness and even depression. In this article, we will explore the causes of seasonal depression and make some suggestions to decrease it.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs during the fall and winter months. Some common symptoms of SAD include mood swings, lack of energy, wanting to stay inside, emotional eating and excessive sleeping. SAD tends to occur more in younger adults than older adults, with an onset starting at age 18. However, older adults who have a previous depression or bipolar diagnosis can experience SAD throughout their lifespan. 

According to Mental Health America, melatonin – a hormone produced in the brain that helps regulate other hormones – may be linked to symptoms of SAD. Changes in the season can disrupt the balance of melatonin levels, which affects your sleep and mood.  In addition, low vitamin D levels can also contribute to SAD symptoms. When it’s cold and dark outside, people tend to stay indoors more often. This can increase isolation and decrease the opportunity to share in fun activities with others, further contributing to sadness and depression and limiting exposure to sunlight (vitamin D).

Here are a few suggestions to decrease the possibility of SAD:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts.
  • Exercise on a regular basis to improve your mood and energy levels.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Make time to interact with family and friends who can provide love and support.
  • Express gratitude and give back to others. Community service can be very rewarding.

Lastly, remember that stigma and fear of being judged causes many people to not reach out when they need support or professional help. Let’s continue to normalize having conversations about depression and other mental health challenges. The winter holiday season can be both joyous and stressful for many. Call or text 988 for mental health professional referrals or visit Psychology Today. For more information about mental health and emotional wellness, please visit the Michigan State University Extension websites for youth mental and emotional wellness and Youth Mental Health First Aid training for adults.

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