depressionSummer is gone, giving way to Autumn’s cool breezes, and with the change of seasons comes the arrival of the holidays and year-end celebrations. Normally, change can be a good thing, but in the U.S. alone, as many as half a million people suffer from a depression that’s triggered by seasonal changes. Seasonal affective disorder (or “SAD”) is a type of depression that occurs during the fall and winter months. Currently, the specific causes of seasonal affective disorder remain unknown. Researchers speculate that a number of factors commonly affecting mental health conditions could be responsible. One important factor may be the body’s biological clock. Fall and winter produce shorter days, and that translates to less daily sun. The lack of daylight might disrupt the body’s internal clock, which lets us know when to sleep or wake up; it also leads to feelings of depression. The change of seasons and lack of sunlight can disrupt the natural balance of two important hormones that are manufactured by the brain. Melatonin and serotonin are neurotransmitters that play a large role in both sleep patterns and mood. Trials conducted on SAD have found certain risk factors associated with winter depression. Some studies show that depression is diagnosed more often in women than in men, even though men experience more severe symptoms. Individuals who live far north or south of the equator are more at risk, due to the decreased sunlight during winter. Family history also seems to play a role. As with other types of depression, studies show that people diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder are more likely to have blood relatives with the same condition. Therapeutic treatments for SAD include getting rest, ‘light therapy,’ and exercising. – Anthony Isaac Palacios