What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that occurs annually during the same season, typically during the winter months. Although some people with clinical depression experience worsening symptoms during the colder months, those with SAD only feel their symptoms of depression during that particular season.

(Andrew Neel/ Unsplash)

Often brushed off as the “winter blues”, SAD causes the same symptoms of associated with clinical depression, including:

  • low energy
  • low mood that lasts most of the day, most days of the week and for more than two weeks, and affects daily life
  • trouble sleeping
  • losing interest in your regular activities
  • weight or appetite changes
  • difficulty concentrating
  • feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • suicidal thoughts

Symptoms often start as mild and worsen as the season progresses, ending when the season is over. People are more susceptible to SAD if they live in colder climates, have a family history of SAD, or a history of other mood disorders.

Young people and women are also more susceptible. SAD makes up about 10% of all depression cases, and 2 to 3% of Canadians will experience it in their lifetime.

The main treatment for this condition is phototherapy, which involves sitting near a lightbox that uses artificial light to emulate natural light. Scientists believe that the light works in the brain to ease symptoms of SAD by affecting chemicals that control mood and sleep.

Phototherapy is not exclusive for those who experience SAD, and people who notice a worsening in their depression during the winter can also find this treatment effective.

Other forms of treatment for SAD also include psychotherapy or antidepressant medications. It is also recommended that those who are affected by SAD exercise outdoors regularly to increase light exposure.

Make sure to recognize these symptoms in yourself and others as the winter kicks off, so SAD can be diagnosed and treated as needed.