If you experience depression, anxiety, and other negative emotions during a certain season or near a certain holiday or anniversary, you might have seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  Seasonal affective disorder is a recurrent mood disorder that can be experienced by someone who doesn’t have depression or an anxiety disorder otherwise. 

Most commonly, people with SAD experience symptoms of depression in the fall that continue throughout the winter until spring. However, you can have SAD in any season or near a holiday or anniversary. Left untreated, SAD can cause problems at work or school, at home, and in relationships. SAD can also complicate your treatment for other conditions including bipolar disorder, substance use disorder, anxiety, and depression

Symptoms

The symptoms of SAD are similar to those that appear during a depressive episode. However, the symptoms are isolated to occurring only at a specific time of year. Your doctor will have tests that can be performed to determine if you’re affected by SAD. Some common symptoms include:

  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide - call 911 immediately
  • Extreme sadness, crying fits, or depressing talk
  • An inability to find joy or pleasure in activities that you would normally enjoy
  • Persistent thoughts of sadness or extreme anxiety
  • A lack of energy to complete tasks or care for yourself, lethargy
  • Increased appetite and weight gain, or decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Social withdrawal or withdrawal from family and friends
  • Trouble making decisions or listening to directions
  • Unwillingness to go outside or leave the house, even for work, school, or family obligations
  • Overuse or misuse of drugs and/or alcohol

Causes

SAD does not have a single specific cause, but several risk factors can make you more likely to develop it. You should talk to your doctor about SAD if you or a loved one seems “off,” especially if it seems to happen at the same time every year. Some of the risk factors for SAD include:

  • Living far from the equator or in a cold, dark environment
  • A family history of depression or anxiety
  • Insomnia or sleeping problems
  • A past history of depression, anxiety, or substance use disorders
  • A body chemistry imbalance
  • A lack of serotonin in the brain
  • A deficiency in processing or absorbing vitamin D 
  • An overabundance of melatonin in your system

Treatment

SAD can be treated. You and your doctor can create a plan for medication, therapy, and other treatments that can help you cope with your symptoms and start feeling better.

Medication: Antidepressant medications, antianxiety drugs, supplements, and other medications can help control the symptoms of your SAD. Talk to a medical professional to learn more.

Therapy: One of the most common treatments used for SAD is light therapy, in which you are exposed to light that mimics the sun through a light box for several hours a day. Talk therapy and other types of therapy can also treat and improve your symptoms. See more about your therapy options. 

Education: Learning more about depression, SAD, anxiety disorders, and how to explain your condition to others can help you cope. Use our resources to get started. 

Support: Good support is an essential tool in your treatment plan. Talk to your family and friends about your SAD and your treatment. Or, find a support group at Sheppard Pratt.