BACKGROUND: Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a seasonally recurrent type of major depression that has detrimental effects on patients' lives during winter. Little is known about how it affects patients during summer and about patients' and physicians' perspectives on preventive SAD treatment. The aim of our study was to explore how SAD patients experience summers, what type of preventive treatment patients implement, which preventive treatment methods, if any, physicians recommend, and what factors facilitate or hinder implementation/recommendation of SAD prevention.
METHODS: We conducted 15 semi-structured interviews, ten with adult patients with a history of SAD and five with physicians. Transcripts were analyzed by two researchers using an inductive thematic analysis approach.
RESULTS: One group of patients was able to enjoy summer and ignore thoughts of the upcoming winter. The other group feared the impending depressive episode in winter, and this fear negatively impacted these patients' well-being during the summer. Preventive treatment was a relevant issue for all patients, and all but one person implemented SAD prevention during summer. We identified six factors that influenced patient use of preventive treatment of SAD. Four factors occur on an individual level (knowledge about disease and preventive treatment options, experience with treatment in acute phase, acceptability of intervention, willingness to take responsibility for oneself), one on an interpersonal level (social and work environment), and one on a structural level (healthcare system). All psychiatrists recommended some kind of preventive intervention, most commonly, lifestyle changes. Four factors influenced psychiatrists in recommending prevention of SAD (patient expectations, disease history and stability, risk/benefit ratio, lack of evidence).
CONCLUSIONS: Success in the implementation of SAD prevention does not solely depend on the willingness of the patients, but is also influenced by external factors. Raising awareness of SAD among general practitioners and low-level access to mental-health support could help patients find appropriate help sooner. To better guide the optimal treatment choice, comparative effectiveness research on treatments to prevent a new onset in patients with a history of SAD and clinical practice guidelines on SAD are needed.