How to Talk to Your Doctor About Seasonal Depression Medication
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The changing of seasons often brings shifts in our physical environment, what we wear, our eating habits and more. Even when we’re inside, the outdoor climate can have a big impact on our all-around wellness. We get a lot more natural light here in the Northern Hemisphere every spring, and some people are sensitive to changes in humidity and barometric pressure. If you have seasonal allergies, you know when summer is around the corner!

You may notice some symptoms with your emotions, mood or energy level that don’t exactly look like a depressive episode or an anxiety condition. If you have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), you might be feeling a lot of relief right now. Shaking off the heaviness and lethargy feels great, but it can make you wonder — why am I suddenly feeling so much better? Should I be taking medication for my seasonal depression?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is its own distinct condition, and it can look very different from person to person. In this article, we’ll help you prepare to ask your doctor all the right questions about how to manage seasonal affective disorder.

SAD treatment options

If your emotions seem to ebb and flow with the weather forecast, that’s definitely something you should discuss with your doctor. There are medications that can help with seasonal affective disorder, but that shouldn’t be your only treatment strategy. Adapting to your environment and having a good therapist to talk to can be just as important. 

We recommend asking about both medication for seasonal affective disorder and a referral to an outpatient therapist. Even if your symptoms are going away right now, you’ll need time to establish a relationship with your therapist. Also, it’s never too early to talk about strategies you can use when fall and winter come around again.

6 questions to ask your doctor about seasonal affective disorder

Write down as many details about your symptoms as you can before talking to your doctor. Note when your symptoms first started and anything that seems to alleviate them. Diet and exercise can make a big difference with SAD symptoms, so describe your current habits. Talk about any medications and supplements you’re taking right now so your doctor has a full picture of what’s happening.

To get the most out of your conversation about seasonal affective disorder, try discussing these six questions:

  • When am I likely to have these symptoms again?

This isn’t really a question anyone can answer, but it can be a good way to look at your symptoms from another angle. To be diagnosed with SAD, you need to experience symptoms for two years in a row. Your doctor will also have to rule out other conditions like depression and anxiety that don’t follow seasonal patterns. They may do some blood tests to check for vitamin levels and thyroid function. 

Getting this diagnosis doesn’t mean you’ll have symptoms every year. If this is your first time experiencing these symptoms, you can discuss what specific events, changes or stimuli you’ve noticed when you’re not feeling well. Knowing your triggers can help you plan ahead and find natural ways to keep your seasonal symptoms at bay. 

  • What other symptoms should I look out for?

If you have risk factors for other mental health conditions, your doctor may ask about specific symptoms or patterns to eliminate them. There may be important next steps you’ll need to take if your condition gets worse. Your doctor may also run through a list of common SAD symptoms to identify any that you haven’t already noticed. If your SAD is winding down right now, your doctor can help you find strategies to plan ahead for next year. This could look like marking your calendar to sort through your closet and make sure your favorite warm, cozy outfits are ready to go.

  • Do my SAD symptoms follow a particular pattern?

You might be surprised to learn that there are two distinct types of SAD: winter pattern and summer pattern. Depending on where you live, people in your area may be more prone to one or the other. People living in the far north, where winter nights are long and the climate stays cold, are more likely to develop winter-pattern SAD. Long, hot summer days and short nights can reduce your quality of sleep or cause insomnia, leading to irritability and bad moods.

Your body’s ability to produce and regulate certain hormones can play a part in your seasonal mood changes as well. Serotonin and melatonin both help maintain your body’s daily rhythms. People with winter-pattern SAD produce too much melatonin, and people with summer-pattern SAD don’t produce enough of it. 

  • What are some things I can do myself to alleviate symptoms?

Your doctor may recommend some strategies to regulate your daily rhythm more intentionally. Getting enough exercise and eating a healthy, balanced diet play a big role in your energy level. For those with summer-pattern SAD, taking an over-the-counter melatonin supplement daily an hour before bedtime can help establish a regular sleep routine. Staying away from devices like your phone, tablet or TV before bedtime can help too. 

  • What treatments might be effective besides depression medication?

If you know that reduced sunlight and a lower vitamin D level are factors, your doctor can recommend light therapy treatment or supplements that should help. You can purchase full-spectrum UV therapy lights, and facing the bright light for 30 minutes every morning can signal to your brain that it’s time to stay awake. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an evidence-based approach you can use with a therapist to mindfully change your habits. 

  • What medications are effective for treating seasonal affective disorder?

Antidepressants take four to eight weeks to work, and it takes time to find one that works for you. If your SAD is persistent for most of the year and you’ve tried the strategies listed above, your doctor may prescribe one to try. SAD is more common among people who have mental health conditions like bipolar disorder and depression, so it might make sense for you to take an antidepressant year-round. 

How Lightfully helps people with SAD

If you already have a condition like bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the changing of the seasons can bring on manic episodes, increased depression or high anxiety. The winter holidays can be a triggering time when SAD combines with deep reflection and grief for a lot of people. Every year around mid-December through January, people reach out to Lightfully for this reason.

We’ve also held summer reset intensives for students who are on vacation. Some businesses have slow periods during the summer, so if you have summer-pattern SAD, this can be a convenient time to request time off from work.

Will this be the year you take time to focus on creating healthy habits for challenging times? Contact us with any questions you have or ask us about an assessment.

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