Greetings Earthlings! 🙂
Leading on from my previous post about autism and mental health, this week I’d like to discuss the issue of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for autists.
Thankfully, I have never had any issues with SAD personally, however many other autists struggle.
So what exactly is SAD?
SAD, also known as ‘Seasonal’ or ‘Winter’ depression, is a form of depression that is triggered by seasonal changes. Onset is usually triggered in the autumn/winter months, however, it has also been known to occur during the brighter months in rarer cases. Depressive symptoms tend to start out mild and progressively worsen as the days get shorter, beginning to level out and disappear with the return of the spring/summer season. The symptoms are similar to clinical depression, the primary difference being the seasonal nature. For autists who experience SAD, the condition can be compounded by communication difficulties and other co-morbid mental health issues.
But is there a scientific link with autism?
While there is no official link to autism, many autists report issues with SAD. Melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep, is generally thought to be the main driver of SAD. The release of melatonin is mediated by exposure to light, so lack of sunlight during the winter months can cause the body to produce more melatonin than is needed, causing you to feel sleepy and sluggish. Light therapy is currently the recommended treatment for SAD to better manage melatonin levels. Interestingly, melatonin levels are dysregulated in autists which could explain why they may be more likely to be impacted by seasonal changes in melatonin levels.
Other studies have linked SAD to serotonin as there can be seasonal variations in serotonin levels. In addition, serotonin is at the heart of the chemical imbalance theory of depression and levels are often dysregulated in autists, which could explain why there might be a link. Buuuutttt a lot of these research papers come from the 1990s. In recent years, the chemical imbalance theory of depression has been disproved, which could also negate this theory for SAD.
Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 🙂
Have a lovely weekend!