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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression characterized by recurrent depressive episodes that usually begin in the fall or winter that go into remission in the spring or summer. However, sometimes it can occur in the summer and go into remission in the fall or winter. Depressive symptoms are consistent with non-seasonal depression but meet the seasonal pattern for at least two consecutive years.

In some cases mood changes are minor like feeling down or sad as the days get shorter and feeling better with longer daylight hours in spring. In other cases, symptoms are more serious affecting how you think, feel and handle life.

Who develops Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Many Americans suffer with SAD but may not know they have the condition. It is more common in women and in those living father north where daylight hours are shorter in winter. It usually begins in young adults. It is also more common in people with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, ADHD, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, or panic disorders. Sometimes it runs in families.

What are the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

People with SAD suffer from a range of depression symptoms, such as:

  • feeling depressed most of a day, nearly every day
  • Having low energy
  • difficulty concentrating
  • loss of the ability to feel pleasure
  • loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • feeling fatigued, sluggish or agitated
  • sleeping too much or insomnia
  • feeling hopeless or worthless
  • social withdrawal
  • anxiety
  • having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
  • altered eating habits with cravings for carbohydrates, and
  • changes in appetite or weight.

What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is not well understood, and the exact cause is not known. It is a complex disorder with many factors. It is believed that a lack of sunlight may play a role. Research suggests that people with SAD have reduced serotonin, and too much melatonin, both of which help maintain your circadian rhythm – your internal clock – which can result in difficulty adjusting to seasonal changes in day length leading to sleep, mood and behavior changes. Other factors that can contribute to SAD include environmental factors, a genetic predisposition, and low levels of Vitamin D which contribute to and exacerbate mood changes.

How is Seasonal Affective Disorder diagnosed?

A diagnosis of SAD must meet the following criteria:

  • Symptoms of major depression
  • Depressive episodes that occur only in fall and winter for at least two consecutive years
  • Episodes are more frequent than with other depression symptoms that a person has at other times of the year 

How is Seasonal Affective Disorder treated?

Treating SAD may involve a combination of therapy, lifestyle changes, medications (prescribed by a medical doctor), and light treatments. Therapy can help increase awareness to emotional states as they begin to change, identify patterns in mood or behavior, and to identify adaptive coping skills. A medical doctor, such as a Primary Care or Psychiatrist, may evaluate and decide on whether the client is a candidate for medications to help manage symptoms. For those who don’t respond well to traditional treatments, light therapy (using special lights designed to mimic sunlight) may be recommended. No one should have to suffer alone with the symptoms of SAD. With proper treatment, most people can find relief from their symptoms and live a healthy, balanced life.

Your consultation

Before beginning treatment one of our clinical psychologists will conduct a complimentary initial consultation with you. The goal of the initial consultation is to get a better understanding of you, your history with what brings you to therapy, and what your needs are in therapy. We feel the fit between client and psychologist is extremely important, and the consultation is a great start for you to get a feel for HealthyMynds and if we are a fit for your needs. Our goal is to work with you in a safe and supportive environment where you can explore your thoughts and feelings and work toward flourishing.

Contact HealthyMynds in Redondo Beach to schedule a complimentary consultation if you think you may be suffering from SAD.


  • Fonte A, Coutinho B. Seasonal sensitivity and psychiatric morbidity: study about seasonal affective disorder. BMC Psychiatry. 2021 Jun 29;21(1):317. doi: 10.1186/s12888-021-03313-z. PMID: 34187417; PMCID: PMC8243845.
  • https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder

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