SAD… Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Posted by on Mar 31, 2019 in Depression Counseling

SAD… Seasonal Affective Disorder.


Living on the East Coast makes it a bit easy to write about this disorder, as winter is a definite unavoidable season.  With short, cold days, with little day light time, it’s no wonder this season affects so many individuals.  Seasonal  affective disorder (SAD), also known as “ winter depression”, or “winter blues”, affects approximately 10 million Americans.  Sad is characterized by depressive symptoms which appears in the fall or winter months  and lifts in the spring time. 

Prevalence of SAD 

Research suggests that 10 to 20 percent of Americans may also suffer from mild SAD, approximately 6 percent of individuals suffer severely enough to require hospitalization.  

For a diagnosis of SAD,  the individual has to meet symptoms for Major Depression Disorder (MDD), during a specific season of the year, for two consecutive years.  The onset age can begin around 18 to 30 years of age.  Research states that SAD is four times more prevalent in women, as it is in men.  Most individuals with SAD, also report at least one other family member with a psychiatric disorder, such as major depression.

Symptoms of SAD

It’s important to note that not all individuals experience the same symptoms of SAD. Some of the most common symptoms include but not limited too.

Consistent low mood.

Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and despair.

Oversleeping and difficulty getting out of bed. 

Loss of pleasure of interest in things that were once pleasurable.

Feelings of lethargic or low energy. 

Low sex drive.

Difficulty concentrating.

Feeling  anxious.

It’s important to note that this list is not comprehensive of all the symptoms of SAD.

Causes of SAD

According to research the exact cause of SAD is not fully understood; however, it is known to be linked to the lack of sunlight during the fall and winter months.  This lack of sunlight according to studies, tends to affect the production of melatonin, this is the hormone that causes one to become sleepy.  Individuals suffering from SAD, tend to produce this hormone in higher levels.  

Another cause of SAD is linked to the lack of another hormone called Seratonin.  This is the  hormone that affects sleep, mood, and appetite.  A lack of sunlight during the winter months may cause lower levels of this hormone, causing the feelings of depression. 

SAD may also be linked to the circadian rhythms (our internal clock). The body uses sunlight to regulate important functions in our daily activities.  Some of these activities include, wake up times. With less sunlight available during the winter months, the internal clock tends to be disrupted, which can lead to SAD. 

Treatment of SAD

Cognitive behavior therapy:

This form of therapy deals with the cognitions ( how one thinks) and the link between our thoughts and the direct impact between ones behavior and feelings.  Therefore, changing the way that one thinks about certain situations can affect one’s behavior, leading to changes in how one feels about certain situations.  CBT is usually a weekly treatment with a professional, which may include some type of homework, directly related to treating the symptoms of SAD.

Couseling and psychodynamic Therapy: 

Seeking counseling is also highly recommend for anyone being diagnosed with depression. Psychodynamic Therapy involves talking to a trained professional about your feelings including your past.  The goal is to find out if your current behavior is been stimulated by your past history. 


Antidepressants are the most commonly utilized method for treating major depression.  Antidepressants for the treatment of SAD, is thought to be very effective, if taken at the start of winter before symptoms of SAD appear, until spring.  SSRIs or Selective  Serotonin reuptake inhibitors is the preferred type of anti depressant, which elevates the hormone serotonin in your brain, which helps to  lift one’s mood.  Antidepressants do come with some side effects, so sticking to your prescription and talking with your doctor regularly, can help in archiving the best result for each individual.

Light Therapy:

This type of treatment is also a very popular form of treatment to improve the mood with those suffering from SAD.  This treatment involves the patient sitting by a special lamp called a “lamp box”, for approximately 30 to 60 minutes every day  This lamp box creates a very bright light that stimulates sunlight, which is what’s missing in most of the winter months. The idea here is that the light may increase the hormone Serationin which affects the mood, while decreasing the hormone melatonin which causes sleep. Light therapy is considered safe as the light boxes have filters that remove UV rays.  However, there are known side effects of light therapy, so again staying in close contact with your doctor is necessary. 

Some things you can do to help yourself with SAD

Try getting as much sunlight as possible, for example going outside during your lunch break, and taking a walk can help. 

Another great idea is sitting near the window as much as possible when you are indoors. 

Try eating a healthy balance meal daily, and make exercise a regular part of your routine. 

You may also want to consider making your home environment as light and airy as possible. 


SAD is a very serious disorder, that affects millions of Americans. I do believe that most individuals, especially those living in a region that experiences seasonal changes, are effected by the “winter blues” to some extent. When the weather is colder and the days are shorter with less light, most individuals are affected in some manner. Obviously,  it may not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of SAD, but there is a noticeable difference in most individuals personalities during the summer months and the winter months.  If you think your mood changes are a result of SAD, consult your doctor as soon as possible.