According to Gundersen Health System, Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is type of depression. It happens during certain seasons of the year-most often fall or winter. It is thought that shorter days and less daylight may trigger a chemical change in the brain leading to symptoms of depression. Light therapy and antidepressants can help treat SAD.
SAD usually starts during adulthood. The risk of SAD increases with age. It's rare in people under age 20. Women are affected more often than men.
Less sunlight and shorter days are thought to be linked to a chemical change in the brain and may be part of the cause of SAD.
Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone, also has been linked to SAD. The body naturally makes more melatonin when it's dark. So, when the days are shorter and darker, more melatonin is made.
There are two types of SAD:
Fall-onset. This is also called "winter depression." Symptoms of depression begin in the late fall to early winter months and ease during the summer months.
Spring-onset. This is also called "summer depression." Symptoms of depression begin in late spring to early summer. This type is much less common.
The most common symptoms of SAD include:
Increased sleep and daytime drowsiness
Loss of interest and pleasure in activities formerly enjoyed
Social withdrawal and increased sensitivity to rejection
Irritability and anxiety
Feelings of guilt and hopelessness
Fatigue, or low energy level
Decreased sex drive
Decreased ability to focus or concentrate
Trouble thinking clearly
Increased appetite, especially for sweets and carbohydrates
Physical problems, such as headaches
Symptoms tend to come back and then improve at about the same times every year.
The symptoms of SAD may look like other mental health conditions. Always see a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Depression often happens with other conditions, such as heart disease or cancer. It may also happen with other mood disorders, such as substance abuse or anxiety. For these reasons, early diagnosis and treatment is key to recovery.
A diagnosis of SAD may be made after a careful mental health exam and medical history done by a psychiatrist or other mental health professional.
The treatments for "winter depression" and "summer depression" often differ, and may include any, or a combination, of the following:
Exposure to sunlight. Spending time outside or near a window can help relieve symptoms.
Light therapy. If increasing sunlight is not possible, exposure to a special light for a specific amount of time each day may help.
Psychotherapy. Cognitive-behavioral or interpersonal therapy helps change the distorted views you may have of yourself and the environment around you. It can help you improve interpersonal relationship skills, and identifying things that cause you stress as well as how to manage them.
Antidepressants. These prescription medicines can help correct the chemical imbalance that may lead to SAD.