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What Does Seasonal Depression Mean

How A Psychologist Can Help


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Q: Is Sad A Real Disorder

A: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has actually nixed the term seasonal affective disorder in favor of major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern.

All that means is that seasonal affective disorder is no longer considered to be a separate condition, but rather a specifier of major depression.

Bipolar disorder II can also be characterized by seasonality, with depressive episodes prominent in the fall and winter and manic episodes in the spring and summer.

Because the older term seasonal affective disorder is better known, we use it throughout this article.

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder is depression that gets triggered by a change in seasons, usually when fall starts. This seasonal depression gets worse in the winter before ending in the spring.

Some people may get a mild version of SAD known as the winter blues. Its normal to feel a little down during colder months. You may be stuck inside, and it gets dark early.

But full SAD goes beyond that its a form of depression. Unlike the winter blues, SAD affects your daily life, including how you feel and think. Fortunately, treatment can help you get through this challenging time.

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When Should I Go To The Emergency Room

If you or a loved one has suicidal thoughts, get help. Call your provider, go to an emergency room, call 911 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800.273.8255. This national network of local crisis centers provides free, confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Its available 24/7.

Strategies That May Help With Winter Depression

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Get as much natural light as possible

If you experience winter depression, increasing your daily exposure to as much natural light as possible can be helpful.

You might find getting as much sunlight during the winter months as you can helpful.

If you can, take a walk throughout the day or sit next to a south-facing window at your office, in a classroom, or at home. This will increase your sunlight exposure.

Exercising next to a window or outdoors when possible is another activity that may help.

Consider light therapy

Light therapy can be an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder.

You can purchase specialized light therapy lighting boxes sometimes called SAD lamps for your home or office. Its often recommended to sit in front of these lightboxes for about 30 to 60 minutes a day.

Light therapy is thought to improve seasonal depression. The increased exposure to light may:

  • cause your brain to reduce the production of the hormone melatonin, which makes you sleepy
  • increase the production of the hormone serotonin, which affects your mood

Though light therapy is recognized as a first-line treatment for seasonal affective disorder, the lamps can be a bit pricy.

Some insurances may cover the cost of the light therapy box, especially if your healthcare provider recommends light therapy. If you have medical insurance, then checking with your insurance provider is a good idea.

Maintain your sleep schedule and routine


Eat a balanced diet

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Can Sad Be Prevented

Because the timing of the onset of winter pattern-SAD is so predictable, people with a history of SAD might benefit from starting the treatments mentioned above before the fall to help prevent or reduce the depression. To date, very few studies have investigated this question, and existing studies have found no convincing evidence that starting light therapy or psychotherapy ahead of time could prevent the onset of depression. Only preventive treatment with the antidepressant bupropion prevented SAD in study participants, but it also had a higher risk of side effects. Therefore, people with SAD should discuss with their health care providers if they want to initiate treatment early to prevent depressive episodes.

What To Look For

The signs of seasonal depression are generally the same as those associated with non-seasonal depression. For those living with SAD, symptoms tend to be most severe in January and February and then taper off in the springtime. Experts reveal some of the subtle signs to look out for below:

1. You feel persistent sadness through the winter months.

You may also experience feelings of hopelessness or helplessness during this time, Serani said.

While rare, some people experience reverse seasonal affective disorder and feel their worst in the spring and summer months.

2. Your appetite has changed.

Changes in your eating patterns, like more cravings for comfort foods or eating more than usual, can indicate a bigger problem as well.

SAD includes symptoms of increased appetite with carbohydrate craving, increased eating and weight gain, said Raymond Lam, professor and leadership chair in depression research at the University of British Columbia.

3. Youre not excited by activities that you used to enjoy.

Your favorite hobbies used to fill you with excitement, but during this time of year you couldnt care less about them.

Diminishing of pleasure, flat affect and apathy can be hallmark symptoms, Serani said.

You may also observe a decrease in your desire for sex, Lam added.

Winter blues dont interfere with your ability to enjoy life or accomplish day-to-day activities.

– Deborah Serani, psychologist and author of Living With Depression

5. Youre more irritable than usual.

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What Causes Spring Depression

The exact cause of spring depression is unknown, but researchers have identified some possible contributing factors. These include:

  • Heat and humidity
  • Disruption to routine
  • Change in sleep patterns due to more sunlight, heat, and other spring and summer discomforts
  • Seeing others having fun and feeling left out or feeling pressure to feel better
  • Avoidance of summer activities due to health or appearance concerns
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Genetics or heredity

How Common Is Seasonal Affective Disorder

Time change means an increase in seasonal affective disorder

About 5% of adults in the United States experience SAD. It tends to start in young adulthood. SAD affects women more than men, though researchers arent sure why. About 75% of people who get seasonal affective disorder are women.

About 10% to 20% of people in America may get a milder form of the winter blues.

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Having Thoughts Of Suicide

Crisis helplines connect you with trained counselors who can offer compassionate support during a time of crisis. Crisis counselors dont give advice or provide professional mental health treatment, but they can listen to whats on your mind and help you identify some next steps toward getting care and treatment.

To get free, confidential, 24/7 support:

Spring depression is less common than winter depression, and experts dont know for certain exactly what causes it. A few potential theories include:

Is Seasonal Affective Disorder Similar To Depression

Winter or summer seasonal affective disorder may also include some of the symptoms that occur in major depression, such as feelings of guilt, a loss of interest or pleasure in activities previously enjoyed, ongoing feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, or physical problems such as headaches and stomachaches.

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The Difference Between Seasonal Affective Disorder And Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder

Psychiatrist Thomas Mehr was the first person to do research that distinguished the two disorders from one another back in 1987. Symptoms of winter SAD include overeating, oversleeping, isolation and a craving for carbohydrates, while sufferers of summer-SAD experience loss in appetite, insomnia, increased sex drive and agitation. The similarity in both disorders is anxiety and depression. But winter-SAD is the one that is more known, thus more accepted and understood.

Light Therapy Dietary Supplements And Counseling Can Make A Big Difference

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Taking vitamin D and melatonin supplements may help you sleep better, improve your mood and boost your immunity. Getting more sunlight is easier said than done in some climes, so you might try light therapy. The most important thing is that you dont ignore it, especially if it interferes with your daily functioning for several months at a time.

Only a professional can diagnose Seasonal Affective Disorder, so its important to seek help. Schedule a secure video session with a MDLIVE counselor who can help you learn healthy coping mechanisms for your SAD symptoms.

Sign up for a free account

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Feeling Sad 5 Warning Signs Of Seasonal Affective Disorder And What To Do

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that occurs at the same time each year. Although it can occur in spring or summer, it typically begins in late fall and lasts through the end of winter. It can sap your energy, amp up your carb cravings, and leave you sad and moody for months on end. Could you be at risk? If you fall into three or more of these categories, it may be time to take action.

The Link Between Nostalgia And Depression

A glimpse of a familiar face, the refrain of a long-forgotten song, a faint fragrance that pulls at your memory any of these can inspire a deep and pervasive longing for people, places, and things that are no longer part of your life.

You cant always trust those glowing snapshots, though.

You see, memory fragments are just that: fragments. As the flowing sands of time wear them down, youre left with an incomplete picture of the past.

The pieces that remain usually arent entirely accurate, either. Your brain has a tendency to apply Instagram-worthy filters to your memories, which can render them softer and more appealing than the actual event.

Say youre riding your bike along the river. A chorus of frogs harmonizes with the soothing rush of water, and the evening breeze cooling your face carries the scent of rain. These sensations provoke a wisp of memory: biking past a similar river on your way home from high school, with nothing to do except grab a snack and retreat to the privacy of your bedroom.

If only life were that simple now, you think wistfully. School and homework were so much easier than work and everything else I have to do.

What you might not remember:

  • regular conflicts with your parents
  • difficulties to keep your grades high enough to earn a scholarship to a college far from home
  • pain of your first heartbreak

So, why does that matter? Whats wrong with remembering the good times?

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Symptoms Of Spring Depression

Symptoms of spring SAD tend to be different than those of winter SAD.

Typical spring and/or summer SAD symptoms include:

  • Sadness or low mood
  • Feeling anxious, agitated, or restless
  • Reduced appetite, often leading to weight loss
  • Sleep difficulties, such as insomnia
  • Episodes of violent behavior

The severity of symptoms varies but can become severe enough to cause significant distress and suicidal thoughts, or interfere with daily functioning.

Symptoms appear in the spring or early summer, and they ease in the fall or winter.

Can Sad Be Prevented Or Avoided

Can You Really Blame Your Bad Mood on Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Theres not much you can do to avoid getting SAD. But you can take steps to manage it so your symptoms dont get worse. Some people start treatment before their symptoms start. They also continue treatment past the time that their symptoms normally go away. Others need continuous treatment to control their symptoms.

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Causes Of Seasonal Affective Disorder

While the exact causes of seasonal affective disorder are unclear, most theories attribute the disorder to the reduction of daylight hours in winter. The shorter days and reduced exposure to sunlight that occurs in winter are thought to affect the body by disrupting:

Circadian rhythms. Your bodys internal clock or sleep-wake cycle responds to changes between light and dark to regulate your sleep, mood, and appetite. The longer nights and shorter days of winter can disrupt your internal clockleaving you feeling groggy, disoriented, and sleepy at inconvenient times.

Production of melatonin. When its dark, your brain produces the hormone melatonin to help you sleep and then sunlight during the day triggers the brain to stop melatonin production so you feel awake and alert. During the short days and long nights of winter, however, your body may produce too much melatonin, leaving you feeling drowsy and low on energy.

Production of serotonin. The reduced sunlight of winter can lower your bodys production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood. A deficit may lead to depression and adversely affect your sleep, appetite, memory, and sexual desire.

Summer of SAD

As with any form of depression, there can be many different causes and contributing factors for seasonal affective disorder. Always consult your doctor for an accurate diagnosis and see the lifestyle changes outlined below for help to boost your mood and manage your depression symptoms.

Subtle Signs Youre Dealing With Seasonal Depression

When daylight saving time ends on the first Sunday in November, we let out a collectivegroan. But for people who struggle with seasonal depression, the shorter days arent just a bummer. This time of year typically marks the onset of their symptoms, which can be debilitating at times.

Also known as seasonal affective disorder , this mental health condition is a subtype of clinical depression that starts and ends around the same time every year usually beginning in fall, lasting through winter and subsiding in spring. The in the fall and winter months is thought to trigger most cases of SAD.

Sunlight helps moderate well-being, so when less of it is available, it derails our biological clock also known as our circadian rhythm resulting in a mood disorder with a seasonal onset, said psychologist Deborah Serani, a professor at Adelphi University and author of Living With Depression. Changes in serotonin and melatonin levels during this time of year may also play a role in the disorder.

Its not uncommon to experience the winter blues, a slight mood shift or sluggishness due to colder weather and less sunshine. But seasonal depression has a more significant impact on your daily functioning.

Winter blues dont interfere with your ability to enjoy life or accomplish day-to-day activities, Serani said. But if your winter blues become more pronounced, negatively impacting school, work, home and personal life, a more involved disorder may be operating.

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An Expert Explains How To Recognize The Signs Of Seasonal Affective Disorder And Why Its Important To Treat It As The Covid

Save this to read later.

While some welcome the changing leaves of fall and fresh snow of winter, others find themselves having difficulty waking in the morning, experiencing daytime fatigue, eating more carbohydrates, and feeling a general sense of depression this time of year. Theres a name for this seasonal affective disorder, or SAD a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons. Onset typically begins in late fall and early winter, when temperatures drop and days are shorter, and can continue through spring. With the COVID-19 pandemic, some may feel the effects of seasonal depression even more than usual.

Health Matters spoke with Michael Terman, Ph.D., a professor of clinical psychology in psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, about ways to identify and treat SAD, and how to fight seasonal depression in a uniquely challenging winter.

Those suffering should know there are effective treatments for this disorder, and it shouldnt be brushed off as just the winter blues, says Dr. Terman, who is also president of the Center for Environmental Therapeutics.

What is seasonal affective disorder?Seasonal affective disorder is a strong tendency to become depressed during a specific time of the year most often in late fall, continuing into winter. There can be other years when the dip is milder than a full depression, or even absent. Summers are most often symptom-free.

What Should I Ask My Healthcare Provider

The Meaning of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)  The Recover

If you have SAD, ask your provider:

  • What treatment is best for me?
  • How can I prevent depressive episodes?
  • Will light therapy work?
  • Should I take an antidepressant?
  • When should I start treatment?
  • How long should my treatment continue?
  • What can I eat to improve my symptoms?
  • What else can I do to feel better?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that happens every year during a specific season, usually winter. Symptoms can include a lack of energy and feelings of hopelessness. Fortunately, theres treatment for seasonal depression. Talk to your healthcare provider. The provider may recommend a special lamp for SAD. The lamp emits bright light to improve symptoms. Antidepressants and talk therapy can also provide relief. If youve had seasonal depression in the past, talk to your provider about starting treatment before symptoms begin.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/07/2020.


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