Seasonal Affective Disorder, What Is SAD?



Depression can come in many forms. According to one study, around 4 – 6% of the population may experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (commonly referred to as SAD), a mood disorder linked to the changing of the seasons. People who are otherwise mentally healthy throughout the rest of the year may experience low energy and feelings at the same points each year. Though the condition is less well understood than other forms of depression, there are common signs and symptoms that people generally exhibit, and there are many treatment options, too.

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In this blog, we’ll run through everything you need to know about SAD, including the symptoms, different guides, who are more likely to get it, and the available treatments, among others. 

The Signs and Symptoms of SAD

One of the most prominent signs of SAD is the time of the year. If you notice that you become low in mood at the same periods each year, such as during late fall or early winter, you may have the condition. Symptoms usually arrive at the onset of the season and gradually get worse as it progresses.

Common symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder:

  • Feeling of depression
  • Low energy
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Changes in your diet/appetite/weight
  • Experiencing feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness. 
  • Not enjoying activities that usually bring pleasure.

You don’t need to show signs of all of the above to be diagnosed with SAD. If left untreated, the symptoms can have an impact on a person’s quality of life. Common behavioral symptoms of SAD include:

  • Becoming more withdrawn from friends and family
  • Increasing problems at school or work
  • Problems with drug or alcohol abuse
  • The onset of other mental health issues, such as anxiety. 

What Causes Sad (And The Different Kinds)

SAD is more common in the colder months. Scientists think that the reduced exposure to sunlight during the fall and winter months (since the sun sets earlier) reduces serotonin levels; this is a chemical that helps to boost and regulate mood. If serotonin levels are low, then feelings of depression are more likely. Others think that the earlier nights impact our circadian rhythm, which functions as our inner biological clock. When this is disrupted, feelings of depression become more likely. 

Another theory is that the change in seasons causes hormones in the brain to shift, impacting mood. This is gaining more credibility, in part because, while SAD is largely connected to the winter months, there’s growing evidence that people can experience it during spring and summer, too. Summer SAD is less common than winter SAD and has different and milder symptoms. The most common summer SAD symptoms are weight loss, difficulty sleeping, and a reduced appetite. 

Risk Factors

While anyone can experience SAD, it’s more likely in certain people than others. For instance, it’s more commonly found in women than men and in younger adults than older adults. More specifically, individuals are more likely to suffer from SAD if they:

Have SAD In Their Family History

A person will be more likely to experience symptoms of SAD if one of their blood relatives also has SAD or other depressive conditions.

Have Depression or Bipolar Disorder

If a person has depression, then the seasons might amplify their conditions.

Live Far From The Equator

Research suggests that SAD is more common among people who live far from the equator, either north or south. This could be because the days are shorter during the winter, reducing exposure to sunlight.

Diagnosing SAD

Because SAD remains shrouded in mystery and the symptoms mimic those of other mental health conditions, diagnosis has historically been difficult. Diagnosis usually follows a thorough examination that may include elements of the following:

A Physical Exam

Doctor’s usually perform an in-depth physical exam to rule out any underlying medical condition that may be contributing to the feelings of depression.

A Psychological Evaluation

Your doctor will determine the extent of your mental health illness by asking questions relating to your feelings, thoughts, physical symptoms, and lifestyle factors.

A Criteria Checklist

In the United States, doctors are increasingly checking their patients against the criteria as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Blood Tests

The symptoms of SAD can mimic the symptoms connected with a low blood count or thyroid problems. They may perform lab tests to rule out both of these causes. 

Treatment Options

It can be deeply unpleasant to live with SAD. As one person with the condition says, “it’s like having your own portable black cloud.” However, it’s important to remember that many treatment options are available that can help alleviate the symptoms and improve quality of life. We’ll take a look at some of the most effective ones below. Note that treatment usually involves a combination of these treatments.


Doctors generally recommend lifestyle treatment before moving on to other treatment methods. Lifestyle adjustments include increasing the amount of time spent outdoors, especially on sunny days. They also recommend getting plenty of exercise and taking steps to keep stress levels at a minimum. 


If the condition is caused by a lack of exposure to sunlight and there’s little sun available, then a lightbox may be effective. This is a type of lamp that creates artificial sunlight that you can buy online. 


Getting antidepressant medication from an online pharmacy service may be effective in treating SAD.


Talking therapies can be effective for alleviating the symptoms of many mental health conditions, including Seasonal Affective Disorder. The most common types of therapies used for SAD patients are CBT (cognitive behaviural therapy) and counseling.


There’s still a lot that we don’t know about SAD, including why people get it in the first place. But there has been great progress made in recent years, and today, there’s no reason to suffer in silence if your mood is affected by the changing of the seasons, whether it’s in the winter or summer months. With a range of treatment options available, you can ensure that you can continue to live a full life, no matter the period of the year. 


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