Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression. But unlike ordinary depression, the symptoms of SAD occur more frequently during one particular season of the year. Most people get SAD in the winter, and it is thought to be related to light deprivation from the shorter daylight hours in the winter. Many more people have a milder form of SAD that is simply called "the winter blues." It can occur in the summer in rare instances, and those who experience it at that time of the year may simply be sensitive to the changing amount of daylight.
SAD most commonly affects people who live in the northern parts of the United States, where the winters are longer and more severe. It is rarely seen in areas where winters are mild.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
The symptoms of SAD are similar to standard depression, but they typically begin in late fall or early winter and subside by the following summer. They include fatigue, weight gain, appetite changes, anxiety, oversleeping and headaches. People with SAD will often feel despair or hopelessness. They may have difficulty concentrating and feel guilty for unknown reasons. They are also known to withdraw from social situations or activities that they used to enjoy.
The most common form of treatment for SAD is a light box. This is not a tanning bed, but rather a specially made light for treating SAD that is prescribed by a doctor. Light therapy treatments are typically performed at home, and they are usually done each day. Many people with SAD have seen vast improvements simply by doing light therapy each day during the winter months.
For mild symptoms of SAD, getting natural light exposure each day may be enough to counteract the effects of the condition. During winter, this may involve bundling up and going for a walk to get some sunlight. Antidepressant medications or behavior therapy may also be helpful for others with SAD.
SOURCES: American Academy of Family Physicians; Mental Health America