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What is seasonal depression?

Posted on 03-20-15 in Mental Health

What is seasonal depression?

As the seasons change and our days get shorter, many people continue on with their lives, adjusting to fewer hours of daylight. In some cases, a person may not have such an easy experience. With fewer hours of light during the day, some may be facing a change in their moods. This condition is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or seasonal depression. SAD is a type of depression related to the changes in the seasons, normally causing depressive symptoms that start in the fall and continue throughout the winter months. In some rare cases, SAD may occur in the spring and summer months. In most cases, these symptoms will start off mildly but will become more severe as the season progresses, highlighting the need for proper treatment to combat the issue so it doesn’t halt day-to-day life.

Causes and symptoms

Seasonal Affective Disorder will come and go according to the seasons, starting and ending around the same time each year. The specific cause of SAD is still unknown though it may be influenced by a person’s biological clock, serotonin levels, melatonin levels or other factors such as gender, age and family history.

Since SAD is a subtype of major depressive disorder it will exhibit common depressive symptoms that come and go according to the seasons. This will include common symptoms such as depressions, feelings of hopelessness, fatigue, changes in appetite and weight, apathy and insomnia or oversleeping. Extreme symptoms to watch for may include suicidal thoughts, social withdrawal, problems at work or at school or substance abuse. The following symptoms will appear according to the season in which SAD occurs:

Fall and Winter SAD

  • Irritability
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • An inability to get along with others
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • A heavy feeling in the arms and/or legs
  • Changes in appetite and weight gain
Spring and Summer SAD

  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Poor appetite and weight loss
  • Agitation or anxiety


Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder

Diagnosing a proper treatment for SAD is important and can prevent further complications for the person dealing with the disorder. One should always to talk to his or her doctor about potentially having SAD, disclosing all symptoms and any other factors that may be causing their emotional and mental distress. SAD tends to be hard to diagnose because it is so similar to other mood disorders. However, it can be identified if, for the past two years, the patient has experienced depression that starts and ends during a specific season each year, no depressive episodes in other seasons and more seasons of depression throughout the time of their illness.

Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder will normally include medication, phototherapy, psychotherapy or a combination of these options. Typically, a doctor will prescribe antidepressants as treatment. When beginning to use a medication, patients should monitor side effects and communicate a doctor on a regular basis.

The two types of therapies used to treat SAD work on both the physical and mental aspects of the illness. Phototherapy or light therapy mimics outdoor light and causes changes in brain chemicals linked to mood. This therapy method is effective with fall and winter SAD and normally works within a few days to two weeks with few side effects. Psychotherapy deals with the mental and emotional side of SAD, identifying negative emotions and thoughts. In doing so, psychotherapy helps the patient change these negative patterns while also teaching healthy ways to deal with SAD and manage stress.

If a person with Seasonal Affective Disorder has turned to substance abuse or is exhibiting extreme symptoms such as suicidal ideation, it may be a good idea to look into a treatment program. This can help them overcome their pattern of substance abuse and learn how to properly deal with this issue.

To learn more about SAD or other forms of depression, treatment for depression or treatment for substance abuse, visit or call 866-629-0442.

Written by Sovereign Content Writer, Brianna Gibbons