Seasonal Affective Disorder

SADWith winter making its presence known, many may begin to feel agitated, irritable and a loss of motivation and enthusiasm. If this is something that you experience every fall or winter, you may actually be suffering from a form of depression known as seasonal affective disorder. While the symptoms may make it hard to get through the dark seasons, there are treatments that can help.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD, is depression that mainly occurs during a change in the seasons. For many people who suffer the disorder, the symptoms begin in the fall around the time that Daylight Saving time ends and continues throughout the winter months. 

What are the symptoms?

Those suffering from SAD may experience symptoms that are similar to depression, including low energy, feelings of agitation or sluggishness, a loss of interests and being unable to concentrate. In extreme cases, someone suffering from SAD may have thoughts of suicide or death. Additional symptoms that are more unique to SAD may include a change in appetite, a gain in weight and oversleeping.

Who is at Risk?

Women are most often diagnosed with SAD. However, while the risk for men is lowering, those who do suffer from SAD often experience symptoms that are more severe. Additionally, young individuals are more at risk for suffering SAD associated with winter. Those who have a family history of SAD or who have clinical depression or have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder are also more likely to suffer SAD symptoms.
What can be Done?

It is recommended that those who are having thoughts of suicide, are becoming increasingly withdrawn from society or who are turning to alcohol or drugs to escape their negative feelings visit their doctor. Doctors should ask a variety of questions that may include what the symptoms are, when the symptoms began, if anything makes the symptoms better or worse, if there is drug or alcohol use and if a diagnosis of depression or other mental disorder has been given, among others. 

When diagnosing SAD, doctors often perform a physical exam, run a lab test and have their patient undergo a psychological evaluation. Physical exams and lab tests are usually run just to eliminate the possibility that there are underlying problems that could be causing depression. A psychological evaluation may help determine if the type of depression the person is suffering is actually SAD, as there are other similar mental conditions that can cause similar symptoms.

Getting Back to Normal


There are three main forms of therapy: light therapy, medications and psychotherapy. Light therapy, or phototherapy, simply involves using a special light box that exposes the person to a light that mimics natural outdoor lighting. While there is not much research on why the treatment works, light therapy appears to be extremely effective and has very few, if any, side effects. For those who may have suppressed levels of brain chemicals that may contribute to depression, the doctor may prescribe an antidepressant or other similar medication. Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, may also help the person learn healthy ways to identify triggers and to cope with the symptoms.


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