Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

What is SAD?

Episodes of depression that occur during certain seasons of the year. It begins and ends around the same time each year. The most common form of SAD starts in the fall, and continues through winter. Symptoms resolve with the onset of spring. There is also a Spring/Summer version of SAD that is less common and presents with a slight difference in symptoms.

The suspected cause for SAD is the shorter days that come with Fall and Winter and the impacts on our bodies, including:

  • A decrease in sunlight disrupting the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm)
  • An increase in the body’s level of melatonin, a sleep related hormone the body produces when it’s dark
  • A drop in serotonin levels, our body’s natural mood stabilizer which could also trigger depression

SAD is thought to effect 0.5—3% of the general population. Risk factors include:

  • Pre-existing depressive mood disorder
  • Gender – it is more common in women
  • Family History – people with SAD are more likely to have blood relatives with SAD
  • Age – SAD is rare in people under 20, and most common in early adulthood-middle age
  • Latitude – it is more common in people who live further from the equator

Symptoms include:

  • Changes in weight (often increased)
  • Changes in sleep (often more tired)
  • Changes in appetite (often increased)
  • Lack of energy and motivation
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, social withdrawal
  • Feelings of guilt, low self worth
  • Difficulty concentrating, confusion
  • Moving/speaking slower than usual
  • Restlessness, agitation, and irritability
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Psychotherapy – can help identify and change negative views you may have of yourself, others, the future and the world and behaviours associated with these that are prevalent when depression hits. It can also help you identify things that cause you stress and learn healthy ways to cope with and manage them.

Antidepressants – prescription medications that
help restore the balance of brain chemicals that
are associated with mood. Some people benefit
from this form of treatment, especially if their
symptoms are severe.

What Can I Do At Home To Help?

  • Exercise
  • Increase sunlight/daylight exposure
  • Follow good sleep habits
  • Light therapy (SAD Lamp)
  • Break down bigger tasks into smaller, more realistic goals
  • Engage with others despite the urge to withdraw
  • Do things you previously enjoyed
  • Do something nice for someone else
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs
  • Focus on positives to help combat your negative mood
  • Accept the help of family and friends
  • Use relaxation and coping skills regularly
  • Make your indoor environment sunnier and brighter – open blinds, trim trees, and sit near windows