What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Depressed young girl feeling sad an lonely, anxious looking out the window in winter. Unhappy Asian woman alone, depression at home.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is a type of depression that is related to the changing of the seasons (Mayo Clinic, 2021). The most common form of SAD is called winter depression, coming along in late fall or early winter and usually going away by summertime.

For those in the United States the most difficult months tend to be January and February. Common symptoms include fatigue, sleep changes, appetite changes, weight changes, avoidance of social situations, drop in energy levels, difficulty concentrating, and more (American Psychiatric Association, 2020). Many with these symptoms brush it off as “winter blues” but this form of depression can impede daily life. Seasonal Affective Disorder affects about 5% of adults in the United States, primarily those in states with less sunlight. That is because SAD has been linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours, less sunlight in winter, and lower levels of vitamin D (American Psychiatric Association, 2020).

Those struggling with SAD may feel overwhelmed by their symptoms which can make keeping their normal routines very difficult. It can be distressing for them to see stark differences in the way they feel throughout the year as seasons change. However, there are ways to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. A commonly used treatment is called light therapy, which uses a device that mimics natural light. The improvements can be seen within a few days to a few weeks. Light therapy is common because it appears to cause a change in brain chemicals which in turn leads to mood improvements, with side effects being rare and minimal (Mayo Clinic, 2021). Another way to treat SAD is with psychotherapy, where a provider can assist with creating healthy coping mechanisms, identifying negative behaviors in order to build positive ones, and encouraging changes to help patients get back to their daily lives. In some cases, a provider may recommend medications such as antidepressants to treat SAD.

We are in the midst of some of the most difficult months for those struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder here in Cleveland. But at Cleveland Primecare we have providers who are educated and ready to help. If you or a loved one is struggling with SAD or have symptoms and want to learn more about it, contact our office. We can set up an appointment and work together to figure out the best plan of action for you today.