Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is a real disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer. Depressive episodes linked to the summer can occur, but are much less common than winter episodes of SAD.

Signs and Symptoms

Seasonal Affective Disorder is not considered as a separate disorder, but is a type of depression that follows a recurring seasonal pattern. To be diagnosed with SAD, people must have symptoms that meet the full criteria for major depression, symptoms that appear seasonally – most often in the winter months — over a period of at least 2 years.

Since SAD includes the symptoms of major depression, let’s take a look at those symptoms:
• Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
• Feeling hopeless or worthless
• Having low energy
• Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
• Having problems with sleep
• Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
• Feeling sluggish or agitated
• Having difficulty concentrating
• Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide.

Symptoms of the Winter Pattern of SAD include:
• Having low energy
• Hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
• Overeating
• Weight gain
• Craving for carbohydrates
• Social withdrawal (feel like “hibernating”)

Risk Factors

Attributes that may increase your risk of SAD include:
• Being female. SAD is diagnosed four times more often in women than men.
• Living far from the equator. SAD is more frequent in people who live far north or south of the equator. For example, 1 percent of those who live in Florida and 9 percent of those who live in New England or Alaska suffer from SAD.
• Family history. People with a family history of other types of depression are more likely to develop SAD than people who do not have a family history of depression.
• Having depression or bipolar disorder. The symptoms of depression may worsen with the seasons if you have one of these conditions (but SAD is diagnosed only if seasonal depressions are the most common).
• Younger Age. Younger adults have a higher risk of SAD than older adults. SAD has been reported even in children and teens.

The causes of SAD are unknown, but research has found some biological clues:

• People with SAD may have trouble regulating one of the key neurotransmitters involved in mood — serotonin.
• People with SAD may overproduce the hormone melatonin – the hormone that regulates sleep.
• People with SAD also may produce less Vitamin D. Vitamin D is believed to play a role in serotonin activity. Vitamin D insufficiency may be associated with clinically significant depression symptoms.

Treatments and Therapies

There are four major types of treatment for SAD:

• Medication
• Light therapy
• Psychotherapy
• Vitamin D

These may be used alone or in combination.

Take Action

So if you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms that could be related to SAD, or any other kind of depression or mental health disorder, don’t suffer alone or in silence. Talk to your health care provider right away, since treating depression and other behavioral health disorders in a timely manner is a better course of action, rather than waiting until prolonged symptoms might lead to a crisis or an emergency.

Depression is a very treatable condition. Greater Nashua Mental Health Center has experienced clinicians who can assist you, since we serve individuals of all ages.

Call our Intake line to make an appointment: 603-402-1574
Or you can call our 24 Hour Emergency line at 1-800-762-8191
Call our Deaf Services Video Phone: 603-821-0240

If you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, Dial 911 immediately. Do not wait.

Learn More

Free Booklets and Brochures
You can download and order free copies of a number of booklets and brochures in English or en Español, and read much more information at National Institute for Mental Health.