Also called seasonal depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mental health condition marked by feelings of depression and meaninglessness that occur at roughly the same time each year. Summer depression, also known as reverse SAD, is a rare form of seasonal depression that can occur during the summer when the days are longer and the temperatures are higher.
Seasonal depression symptoms can be debilitating and overwhelming, but this highly treatable condition doesn’t have to rule your life. It’s important to seek help so you can learn to manage winter SAD and get through the season experiencing the joy you deserve from life.
Continue reading to find out more about SAD, its causes, risk factors, diagnostic requirements, and treatment options.
How Common is Seasonal Depression?
SAD is a fairly common ailment. In fact, research suggests that up to 5% of Americans experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) at least once a year. For most people, the seasonal pattern of SAD starts in late autumn or early winter and continues into late spring or early summer.
As many as 25 million more Americans may experience a lesser form of SAD known as “the winter blues” or winter depression.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Symptoms
There are multiple possible seasonal depression symptoms. The symptoms differ for those who suffer from SAD in the summer months relative to those who experience it during the winter.
Depression that occurs in the fall or winter.
As noted earlier, most people experience seasonal depression symptoms in the colder winter months. Associated symptoms are similar to those of general depression and can include:
- I’m dejected and worn out.
- A yearning for solitude
- a greater desire for food
- a lack of drive
- Difficulty focusing
- Suicidal thoughts
- Weight gain
Many people with SAD feel down nearly every day. If they don’t find new things to do, they may become more interested in eating and sleeping.
Seasonal depression in the summer or spring
Those who experience SAD during the summer months may have different symptoms, including:
- Loss of desire to eat
- Loss of weight
- Having difficulty winding down for the night
However, the underlying feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and hopelessness are also often still present in summertime.
Seasonal Depression Causes
While research hasn’t been able to truly define a precise cause of SAD, some prevalent theories are being tested. Serotonin is a brain chemical that plays a role in our mood and is thought to be diminished in people with SAD.
Those with seasonal depression also seem to produce more melatonin, a hormone that’s responsible for regulating sleep. Their bodies typically produce too little vitamin D, which has direct and indirect roles in sleep regulation.
Another reason could also be your circadian rhythm. Because of shorter daylight hours, your body’s circadian rhythm may be disrupted which can cause depressive symptoms to develop.
Seasonal Depression Risk Factors
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is more likely in women, older people, people who live in cold climates, and people who have a history of depression in their families.
Women are about 4 times more likely to have SAD than men.
SAD usually begins in late adolescence or early adulthood for the majority of people.
Seasonal depression is more common in people who live farthest from the equator. Shorter days and less sunlight is thought to make people more susceptible.
Depression in American History
Seasonal depression is more likely to strike those with a history of depression or bipolar disorder.
Types of Treatment for SAD
Getting help from a therapist who specialises in treating SAD is an excellent place to start the process of recovery.
Therapy or medication (or both) (or both)
Patients with varying levels of severity and frequency of SAD symptoms will respond to treatment in different ways. Antidepressants and beta-blockers, two common prescription medications, may be used in conjunction with online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder.
The use of light as a treatment method
Seasonal depression has been linked to less exposure to natural sunlight in the winter months. Full-spectrum lighting produced by lightboxes is thought to have antidepressant effects in some users. This isn’t a cure-all for SAD, but it does alleviate the symptoms for many people.
There are several methods for combating the onset of SAD. Here’s how to deal with seasonal depression:
- Spending more time outside, even if the weather is cold. Extend your horizons and take in the natural light. Even on cloudy days, the daylight penetrating through the cloud cover is still beneficial. If it’s too cold to go outside, try sitting by a window, opening the blinds, and absorbing the sunlight rays.
- Eating a diet rich in water-rich foods and maintaining a well-balanced diet. Combating depression necessitates a well-balanced diet. Eating fatty fish, lean meats, green leafy vegetables like kale, nuts, cheese, and whole-grain foods can help chase away the blues.
- Performing at least five days of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Natural endorphins released as a result of physical activity have been shown to alleviate the symptoms of depression. If you work out in a gym, you’ll increase your chances for socialisation, which is another helpful tool for combating depression.
- Waking up earlier in the mornings to increase your exposure to natural light. SAD normally occurs during the short days of winter when sunshine is minimised. As a natural antidepressant, waking up early and spending time in nature has been shown to be beneficial for people with depression.
No matter what the cause of depression, there are a number of techniques that can help alleviate its symptoms, including mindfulness meditation, pranayama (the deliberate inhalation and exhalation of air), yoga, and aromatherapy. Explore these and other holistic tactics as part of your regular routine before your SAD sets in.
Getting Diagnosed & Finding Help
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is diagnosed by looking for the following signs and symptoms:
- Depression or mania that repetitively begins and ends at the same times each year
- Symptoms that self-resolve, disappearing during “normal” (warmer) seasons
- Symptoms that have repeated for at least 2 consecutive years
It’s difficult to say exactly what causes seasonal depression. Because it shares symptoms with so many other disorders characterised by depression and/or mania, including bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), certain viral illnesses, and an underactive thyroid, to name just a few, it can be difficult for a doctor to make a definitive diagnosis of it.
Because of this, seeking help if you suspect you’re suffering from SAD symptoms is so important. A doctor can rule out any other medical conditions, so you can begin effective, helpful treatment to help you get through the season.
In the convenience of your own home, Talkspace provides therapy at an affordable price. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) management may be possible through online therapy with skilled therapists. To learn more about how Talkspace can assist you, please contact us right away.
Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 if you’re experiencing severe depression or contemplating self-harm.