SAD? Let’s See What The Doctor Says

If you’ve realized that your depression is just that, and not the winter blues or a melancholy weekend, and find it comes back like clockwork every year when the summer things are packed away and the plants are frostbitten, it’s time to see a medical professional.  You do not need to suffer in silence, or shame.  You are not losing it.  You could  have seasonal affective disorder, a very real and debilitating condition that can – and should – be treated.

We’ve already gone over the signs and symptoms, causes and risk factors as well as the potential complications and side effects of SAD.  Once you’ve made your appointment to see your family doctor or primary care provider about it, or a psychologist or psychiatrist, it’s a good idea to get ready for that first visit so you get the most out of the appointment.  Time with all doctors is limited today, so be ready with the following:

  • Write down what you can about your depression patterns.  This includes when the depression starts and what appears to make it either worse or better.
  • Record the symptoms, such as feeling down or having no energy or interest and so on.  You will want to give your doctor a clear picture of how you have been feeling.
  • Write down major stressors or life changes you may have had recently.
  • Note any other mental or physical health problems you might have.  Either or both can affect your mood.
  • List all your medications, including vitamins and supplements.
  • Make of list of questions to ask the doctor.
Some basic questions you might ask your doctor about SAD include:
  • What else could be causing my depression symptoms?
  • Do you think my symptoms are likely to have been caused by seasonal affective disorder, or could they be due to some other issue?
  • What are the best treatment options?
  • What are the restrictions I need to follow, if any, or what steps should I take to help my mood?
  • Do you believe I should see a mental health provider, psychiatrist or psychologist?  What will that cost?
  • Will my insurance cover the cost of seeing a specialist?
  • Is there a generic alternative to the medications you are prescribing?
  • Have you any printed materials or brochures that I can take home with me? Are there online resources or websites that you recommend?
What can you expect from your doctor?  The doctor will very likely have a bunch of questions for you.  Again, since your time together is limited, be ready for his or her questions.  You may be asked:
  • What are your symptoms?
  • When did these symptoms start?
  • Are the symptoms continuous, on-and-off or occasional?
  • How severe are these symptoms?
  • Is there anything you can do to make the symptoms better?
  • Is there anything you can do to make the symptoms worse?
  • Do you have any other mental or physical conditions?
  • Are you taking any medications, herbal remedies or other supplements?
  • Do you use drugs?  
  • Do you drink alcohol?
  • Have you any blood relatives who have seasonal affective disorder or another mental health condition?
In order to properly diagnose seasonal affective disorder, the doctor’s evaluation will likely include:
  • Detailed questions.  The doctor will want to know about your sleeping and eating habits, your relationships, your job and other questions about your life.  He or she will ask in detail about your mood and seasonal changes in your behavior and thoughts.  You may be asked to complete a psychological questionnaire.
  • Physical examination.  The doctor may do a physical exam to rule out or find any underlying physical issues that could be tied to your depression.
  • Medical tests.  While there is no medical test for seasonal affective disorder, your doctor may suspect a physical condition that could be causing or worsening your depression.  He or she may order blood tests or other tests to rule out or confirm these suspicions.
It is important to keep in mind that it may be difficult for your doctor to specifically diagnose SAD.  Other mental health conditions and different types of depression can cause very similar symptoms.  Next, we will go over the specific criteria needed for a firm SAD diagnosis along with the various therapies used to treat seasonal affective disorder.

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