December 27, 2023

What is Seasonal Depression?

Seasonal Depression, more formally known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is a type of depression that occurs at a certain time of the year, usually in the winter when there’s less natural sunlight. It typically starts in the late fall and early winter and goes away during the spring and summer. Here’s a detailed look at SAD:

Characteristics of Seasonal Depression:

  1. Recurring Patterns: Individuals experience symptoms at roughly the same time each year.
  2. Winter Pattern: Most commonly, symptoms begin in the fall and continue into the winter months.
  3. Less Commonly, Summer Pattern: A less common form of SAD occurs in the summer months.


Symptoms of winter-pattern SAD might include:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Sleeping problems (usually oversleeping)
  • Changes in appetite or weight (particularly a craving for foods high in carbohydrates)
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Summer-pattern SAD can include symptoms like insomnia, poor appetite, weight loss, agitation, or anxiety.


The exact cause of SAD isn’t fully understood, but several factors might play a role:

  • Reduced Sunlight: Less sunlight in the fall and winter might cause winter SAD by disrupting your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) and leading to feelings of depression.
  • Serotonin Levels: Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, which might trigger depression.
  • Melatonin Levels: The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s melatonin levels, which play a role in sleep patterns and mood.

Risk Factors:

  • Being Female: SAD is diagnosed more often in women than in men, but men may have more severe symptoms.
  • Family History: Having relatives with SAD or another form of depression can increase your risk.
  • Having Major Depression or Bipolar Disorder: Symptoms of depression may worsen seasonally if you have one of these conditions.
  • Living Far from the Equator: SAD is more common among people living far north or south of the equator where there are shorter daylight hours in the winter.


  • Light Therapy (Phototherapy): Exposure to a special light box can help improve mood and alleviate symptoms.
  • Psychotherapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be an effective treatment for SAD, particularly a version called CBT-SAD, which focuses on identifying and changing negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse.
  • Medications: Antidepressants might be prescribed to help manage or prevent the onset of symptoms.
  • Vitamin D: Some people with SAD benefit from Vitamin D supplements, particularly if they have a vitamin D deficiency.

Managing Symptoms:

  • Make Your Environment Sunnier and Brighter: Open blinds, trim tree branches that block sunlight, or add skylights to your home.
  • Get Outside: Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help, especially if you spend some time outside within two hours of getting up in the morning.
  • Exercise Regularly: Physical activity helps relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms.

If you think you might have SAD, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms and the best treatment plan for you. They can help you manage your symptoms and feel better, even when the days are short and dark.

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