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What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

During seasonal changes, many individuals often experience symptoms of depression. Significant changes in mood and behavior typically occur in the fall or winter. This change is due to the condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that causes you to feel sad or not like your usual self. These symptoms tend to last 4 to 5 months per year. [1] SAD starts during adulthood and increases with age. It is rare for individuals under the age of 20 to experience Seasonal Affective disorder. However, this disorder is more commonly affected by women compared to men. [2]

There are two types of SAD: fall on-set and spring on-set. Fall-onset is known as the “winter depression.” These symptoms begin in the late fall to early winter months and ease during the summer months. Spring-onset is referred to as “summer depression,” which begins in late spring to early summer. However, this type of seasonal affective disorder is less common. To detect SAD, one must determine its signs and symptoms.

The following are the most common symptoms of SAD: [2]

Increased sleep and daytime drowsiness

Loss of interest and pleasure in activities formerly enjoyed

Social withdrawal

Irritability and anxiety

Feelings of guilt and hopelessness

Fatigue, or low energy level

Decreased ability to focus or concentrate

Trouble thinking clearly

Increased appetite, especially for sweets and carbohydrates

Weight gain

Insomnia (trouble sleeping)

Episodes of violent behavior

What causes SAD?

According to researchers, it was indicated that SAD may be due to the reduced activity of the brain chemical serotonin, which helps regulate your mood and Vitamin D deficiency. [1] It was suggested that individuals with SAD produce too much melatonin, resulting in an increase in sleepiness. Melatonin helps maintain the normal sleep-wake cycle. If there is a disruption between serotonin and melatonin, behavior and mood will begin to change in individuals with SAD. Seasonal affective disorder may be diagnosed after a careful mental health exam and medical history done by a psychiatrist or other mental health professional, as well as, detecting the frequency of symptoms occurring during specific seasons.

There are treatments available that can help individuals affected by seasonal affective disorder. These suggested treatments can effectively manage one’s signs and symptoms of SAD: [2,3]

● Psychotherapy

● Light therapy

● Antidepressant medications

● Vitamin D

● Staying active

● Leisure time with friends and family

● Seek professional help

● Eating healthy

● Stay away from alcohol and drugs

● Focus on positivity


1. National Institute of Mental Health (2020). Seasonal Affective Disorder. NIH.

2. John Hopkins Medicine (2021). Seasonal Affective Disorder. John Hopkins Medicine.

3. American Psychological Association (2014). Seasonal affective disorder: More than the winter blues. APA.


Author: Melissa Del Rio

Editor: Lauryn Agron

Health scientist: Melissa Del Rio

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