Seasonal Affect Disorder

Winter can be tough for many reasons. It is dark, there is snow and many times we just want to stay in. Most of that is ok, it is when it starts to impact other areas of our lives and we start to see our mood declining. This is the purpose of knowing the difference between down mood, a depressive episode and something called Seasonal Affect Disorder. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, SAD is not considered a separate disorder but is a type of depression characterized by its recurrent seasonal pattern, with symptoms lasting about 4 to 5 months per year.

Therefore, the signs and symptoms of SAD include those associated with major depression, and some specific symptoms that differ for winter-pattern and summer-pattern SAD. Not every person with SAD will experience all of the symptoms listed below.

Symptoms of major depression may include:
● Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
● Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
● Experiencing changes in appetite or weight
● Having problems with sleep
● Feeling sluggish or agitated
● Having low energy
● Feeling hopeless or worthless
● Having difficulty concentrating
● Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

For winter-pattern SAD, additional specific symptoms may include:
● Oversleeping (hypersomnia)
● Overeating, particularly with a craving for carbohydrates
● Weight gain
● Social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”)

Specific symptoms for summer-pattern SAD may include:
● Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
● Poor appetite, leading to weight loss
● Restlessness and agitation
● Anxiety
● Episodes of violent behavior

How is SAD treated?
Treatments are available that can help many people with SAD. They fall into four main categories that may be used alone or in combination:

Talk to your health care provider about which treatment, or combination of treatments, is best for you. For tips for talking with your health care provider, refer to the NIMH fact sheet, Taking Control of Your Mental Health: Tips for Talking With Your Health Care Provider, at

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