Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, & Treatment

Know the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

3 min read

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a kind of depression that mainly occurs during the change of seasons, commonly when the fall starts. According to the doctors of the Mayo Clinic, seasonal depression gets worse in the late fall or early winter.

The mild version of SAD is also known as the “winter blues.” Do not get worried if you feel a little down during the colder months. You may be stuck inside, and it gets dark early, one of the reasons to feel sad.

But SAD goes beyond this. It’s a form of depression and it affects daily life including how you feel and think. It can be a challenging time but the right management and treatment can things easier.

Know the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment for SAD or seasonal depression.


Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Signs & Symptoms

According to the American Psychiatric Association, SAD is officially classified as major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns and it might be characterized by symptoms of depression besides:

  • Sadness, almost every day.

  • Anxiety.

  • Cravings and weight gain

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness.

  • Lack of concentration.

  • Feeling irritated

  • Loss of interest or withdrawal from social activities.

  • Sleeping problems

  • Thoughts of death or suicide

  • Decreased appetite and weight loss.

  • Episodes of violent behavior.

  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia).

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Causes

According to Healthline, the exact cause of SAD is not known. Lack of sunlight may trigger the condition and other causes may include:

  • Biological clock change: Our biological clock shifts when there is less sunlight in winter. The internal shifts cause changes in mood, sleep and hormones. The sudden shift causes problems in your daily routine.

  • Chemical imbalance in the brain: Chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters send signals to nerves which in turn promote the production of serotonin and contributes to feelings of happiness. People who are at risk of suffering from SAD, have less serotonin activity. A lack of sunlight in the winter can make the situation worse, leading to depression.

  • Vitamin D deficiency: Lack of sunlight means deficiency of vitamin D. Since vitamin D is responsible for a boost of serotonin, low levels of vitamin D can affect the serotonin levels leading to worse symptoms of SAD.

  • Melatonin imbalance: Melatonin is a chemical that affects sleep patterns and mood. Lack of sunlight stimulates an overproduction of melatonin making you feel more sluggish and sleepy during the winter.

  • Negative mindset: People with SAD often suffer from stress, anxiety, and negative thoughts in winter.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Diagnosis

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), aren't self-diagnosable. You will have to consult a professional healthcare provider for a thorough evaluation since the seasonal affective disorder is part of a more complex mental health issue.

Your provider may refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist. You will have to discuss your symptoms with these mental health professionals. They’ll consider your pattern of symptoms and decide if you have seasonal depression or another mood disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Treatment 

According to the doctors of Cleveland Clinic, the treatment options for SAD include:

  • Light therapy

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that effectively treats SAD, producing the longest-lasting effects of any treatment approach.

  • Antidepressant medication, either alone or with light therapy.

  • Your doctor may recommend spending time outdoors since sunlight can help improve your symptoms. Try to get out during the day and increase the amount of sunlight that enters your home or office.

  • A vitamin D supplement may help improve your symptoms.

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