Seasonal Affective Disorder

Jan. 30, 2024

What is SAD?

SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a form of depression characterized by recurrent seasonal patterns. It often begins in late fall or early winter, leading to winter-pattern SAD, although some may experience depressive symptoms during spring and summer, known as summer-pattern SAD.

What are the Signs and Symptoms?

SAD symptoms align with depression but exhibit seasonal variations. Common indicators include persistent sadness, irritability, changes in sleep and appetite, fatigue, and thoughts of death or suicide. For winter-pattern SAD, oversleeping and overeating, particularly carbohydrates, are common.

How is SAD Diagnosed?

To be diagnosed with SAD, a person must experience depressive symptoms specific to seasons (winter or summer) for at least 2 consecutive years. Symptoms during the specific season should be more frequent than at other times of the year.

Who Develops SAD?

About 5 percent of adults in the U.S. experience SAD, with onset typically in young adulthood. It is more prevalent in women, especially in winter-pattern SAD. People living farther north with shorter daylight hours are at higher risk.

What are the Causes of SAD?

The exact cause is not fully understood, but reduced serotonin levels, disrupted melatonin production, and vitamin D deficiency are linked. Changes in daily rhythms triggered by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter tied to the seasonal night-day cycle contribute to mood and behavior changes.

What lifestyle changes can help alleviate SAD symptoms?

Light Therapy: Exposure to bright light for 30-45 minutes daily typically in the morning, regular exercise, healthy eating, sufficient sleep, and maintaining an active social life can contribute to overall well-being and help manage SAD.

*be sure to wear SPF 

What are the other treatment options for SAD?

Psychotherapy: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) adapted for SAD.

Antidepressant Medication: SSRIs or bupropion may be prescribed.

Vitamin D: Supplements for those with deficiency.

When should someone seek professional help for SAD?

If experiencing symptoms of SAD, it's crucial to consult a trained medical professional for proper evaluation and diagnosis. In severe cases or when suicidal thoughts are present, immediate medical attention and Crisis lifeline is necessary.

Can SAD be managed without treatment?

Personalized treatment plans discussed with a healthcare provider are crucial for prevention. While symptoms may improve on their own with the change of season, treatment can lead to quicker improvements. SAD is a manageable condition with appropriate interventions.


  1. Help for Mental Illnesses - National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) (


  3. CHW training: