So many of the symptoms of SAD and depression overlap—SAD is just seasonal depression, after all—so why is it so important to figure out what’s what? According to Dr. Mennesson, knowing the difference between depression and SAD allows the person suffering to find out what type of treatment or interventions they need. “While some interventions can be helpful for both, some are less so; for example, light therapy is particularly effective for SAD, while medication may not be as effective for SAD as for regular depression.” In other words, in order to avoid unnecessary medication or treatments that will not work, you need to know what the root cause of your depression really is. And most importantly, this isn’t something you should necessarily self-diagnose. Your doctor can help you tell the difference and create a treatment plan tailored to you.
That said, there is one avenue of treatment that is bound to improve your mental health—and that’s a mindfulness practice. “Whether it’s SAD or depression, developing a mindfulness practice is proven to decrease symptoms and lift mood by shifting the mind and body into parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) mode.” explained Dr. Mennesson, who is an an avid yogi and meditator himself.
So what’s the take-home? Neither SAD nor depression are conditions that you should feel like you need to handle alone. Reach out to a doctor, a friend, or a therapist or counselor, and make sure you’re getting the support you need—whether you need it all year round or just in the winter months.