Treatments and drugs
Treatment for seasonal affective disorder may include light therapy, medications and psychotherapy. If you have bipolar disorder, tell your doctor
— this is critical to know when prescribing light therapy or an antidepressant. Both treatments can potentially trigger a manic episode.
In light therapy, also called phototherapy, you sit a few feet from a special light therapy box so that you’re exposed to bright light. Light therapy mimics natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood.
Light therapy is one of the first line treatments for fall-onset SAD. It generally starts working in a few days to two weeks and causes few side effects. Research on light therapy is limited, but it appears to be effective for most people in relieving SAD symptoms.
Before you purchase a light therapy box, talk with your doctor about the best one for you, and familiarize yourself with the variety of features and options so that you buy a high-quality product that’s safe and effective.
Some people with SAD benefit from antidepressant treatment, especially if symptoms are severe.
An extended-release version of the antidepressant bupropion (Wellbutrin XL, Aplenzin) may help prevent depressive episodes in people with a history of SAD. Other antidepressants also may commonly be used to treat SAD.
Your doctor may recommend starting treatment with an antidepressant before your symptoms typically begin each year. He or she may also recommend that you continue to take the antidepressant beyond the time your symptoms normally go away.
Keep in mind that it may take several weeks to notice full benefits from an antidepressant. In addition, you may have to try different medications before you find one that works well for you and has the fewest side effects.
Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, is another option to treat SAD. Psychotherapy can help you:
•Identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse
•Learn healthy ways to cope with SAD
•Learn how to manage stress
Lifestyle and home remedies
In addition to your treatment plan for seasonal affective disorder, try the following:
•Make your environment sunnier and brighter. Open blinds, trim tree branches that block sunlight or add skylights to your home. Sit closer to bright windows while at home or in the office.
•Get outside. Take a long walk, eat lunch at a nearby park, or simply sit on a bench and soak up the sun. Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help — especially if you spend some time outside within two hours of getting up in the morning.
•Exercise regularly. Exercise and other types of physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms. Being more fit can make you feel better about yourself, too, which can lift your mood.
Some people are interested in trying alternative medicine (a nonconventional approach instead of conventional medicine) or complementary medicine (a nonconventional approach used along with conventional medicine).
Certain herbal remedies, supplements or mind-body techniques are sometimes used to try to relieve depression symptoms, though it’s not clear how effective these treatments are for seasonal affective disorder.
Keep in mind, alternative treatments alone may not be enough to relieve your symptoms. Some alternative treatments may not be safe if you have other health conditions or take certain medications.
Some people choose to take a supplement to treat depression, such as:
•St. John’s Wort. This herb is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat depression in the United States, but it’s a popular depression treatment in Europe. It may be helpful if you have mild or moderate depression, but St. John’s wort should be used with caution. It can interfere with a number of medications, including antidepressants, HIV/AIDS medications, drugs to prevent organ rejection after an organ transplant, birth control pills, blood-thinning medications and chemotherapy drugs.
•SAMe. Pronounced “sam-E,” this dietary supplement is a synthetic form of a chemical that occurs naturally in the body. The name is short for S-adenosyl–L-methionine (es-uh-den-o-sul-el-muh-THIE-o-neen). Like St. John’s wort, SAMe isn’t approved by the FDA to treat depression in the United States, but it’s used in Europe as a prescription drug to treat depression. SAMe may be helpful, but more research is needed. SAMe may trigger mania in people with bipolar disorder.
•Melatonin. This dietary supplement is a synthetic form of a hormone occurring naturally in the body that helps regulate mood. A change in the season to less light may change the level of melatonin in your body. Taking melatonin could decrease winter-onset SAD, but more research is needed. Safety in children or with long-term use in adults has not been determined.
•Omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats are found in cold-water fish, flaxseed, flax oil, walnuts and some other foods. Omega-3 supplements are being studied as a possible treatment for depression. While considered generally safe, in high doses, omega-3 supplements may interact with other medications. More research is needed to determine if eating foods with omega-3 fatty acids can help relieve depression.
Keep in mind that nutritional and dietary products aren’t monitored by the FDA. You can’t always be certain of what you’re getting and if it’s safe. Also, because some herbal and dietary supplements can interfere with prescription medications or cause dangerous interactions, talk to your health care provider before taking any supplements.
Mind-body therapies that may help relieve depression symptoms include:
Coping and support
These steps can help you manage seasonal affective disorder:
•Stick to your treatment plan. Take medications as directed and attend therapy appointments as scheduled.
•Take care of yourself. Get enough rest and take time to relax. Participate in an exercise program or engage in another form of regular physical activity. Make healthy choices for meals and snacks. Don’t turn to alcohol or illegal drugs for relief.
•Practice stress management. Learn techniques to manage your stress better. Unmanaged stress can lead to depression, overeating, or other unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.
•Socialize. When you’re feeling down, it can be hard to be social. Make an effort to connect with people you enjoy being around. They can offer support, a shoulder to cry on or a joke to give you a little boost.
•Take a trip. If possible, take winter vacations in sunny, warm locations if you have winter SAD or to cooler locations if you have summer SAD.
There’s no known way to prevent the development of seasonal affective disorder. However, if you take steps early on to manage symptoms, you may be able to prevent them from getting worse over time.
Some people find it helpful to begin treatment before symptoms would normally start in the fall or winter, and then continue treatment past the time symptoms would normally go away. Other people need continuous treatment to prevent symptoms from returning.
If you can get control of your symptoms before they get worse, you may be able to head off serious changes in mood, appetite and energy levels.
Source: Mayo Clinic