Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons and begins and ends at about the same times every year.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you're like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer.
Treatment for SAD may include light therapy (phototherapy), medications and psychotherapy.
Don't brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the "winter blues" or a seasonal funk that you have to tough out on your own. Take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.
In most cases, seasonal affective disorder symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer. Less commonly, people with the opposite pattern have symptoms that begin in spring or summer. In either case, symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.
Signs and symptoms of SAD may include:
Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD, sometimes called winter depression, may include:
Symptoms specific to summer-onset seasonal affective disorder, sometimes called summer depression, may include:
In some people with bipolar disorder, spring and summer can bring on symptoms of mania or a less intense form of mania (hypomania), and fall and winter can be a time of depression.
It's normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can't get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or you feel hopeless or think about suicide.
The specific cause of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown. Some factors that may come into play include:
Seasonal affective disorder is diagnosed more often in women than in men. And SAD occurs more frequently in younger adults than in older adults.
Factors that may increase your risk of seasonal affective disorder include:
Take signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder seriously. As with other types of depression, SAD can get worse and lead to problems if it's not treated. These can include:
Treatment can help prevent complications, especially if SAD is diagnosed and treated before symptoms get bad.
Even with a thorough evaluation, it can sometimes be difficult for your doctor or mental health professional to diagnose seasonal affective disorder because other types of depression or other mental health conditions can cause similar symptoms.
To help diagnose SAD, your doctor or mental health professional may do a thorough evaluation, which generally includes:
Treatment for seasonal affective disorder may include light therapy, medications and psychotherapy. If you have bipolar disorder, tell your doctor — this is critical to know when prescribing light therapy or an antidepressant. Both treatments can potentially trigger a manic episode.
In light therapy, also called phototherapy, you sit a few feet from a special light box so that you're exposed to bright light within the first hour of waking up each day. Light therapy mimics natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood.
Light therapy is one of the first line treatments for fall-onset SAD. It generally starts working in a few days to a few weeks and causes few side effects. Research on light therapy is limited, but it appears to be effective for most people in relieving SAD symptoms.
Before you purchase a light box, talk with your doctor about the best one for you, and familiarize yourself with the variety of features and options so that you buy a high-quality product that's safe and effective. Also ask your doctor about how and when to use the light box.
Some people with SAD benefit from antidepressant treatment, especially if symptoms are severe.
An extended-release version of the antidepressant bupropion (Wellbutrin XL, Aplenzin) may help prevent depressive episodes in people with a history of SAD. Other antidepressants also may commonly be used to treat SAD.
Your doctor may recommend starting treatment with an antidepressant before your symptoms typically begin each year. He or she may also recommend that you continue to take the antidepressant beyond the time your symptoms normally go away.
Keep in mind that it may take several weeks to notice full benefits from an antidepressant. In addition, you may have to try different medications before you find one that works well for you and has the fewest side effects.
Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, is another option to treat SAD. A type of psychotherapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy can help you:
Examples of mind-body techniques that some people may choose to try to help cope with SAD include:
In addition to your treatment plan for seasonal affective disorder:
Certain herbal remedies, supplements or mind-body techniques are sometimes used to try to relieve depression symptoms, though it's not clear how effective these treatments are for seasonal affective disorder.
Herbal remedies and dietary supplements aren't monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the same way medications are, so you can't always be certain of what you're getting and whether it's safe. Also, because some herbal and dietary supplements can interfere with prescription medications or cause dangerous interactions, talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any supplements.
Make sure you understand the risks as well as possible benefits if you pursue alternative or complementary therapy. When it comes to depression, alternative treatments aren't a substitute for medical care.
These steps can help you manage seasonal affective disorder:
You may start by seeing your family doctor or a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
Before your appointment, make a list of:
Some basic questions to ask your doctor may include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment.
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Be ready to answer them to reserve time to go over any points you want to spend more time on. Your doctor may ask:
May 5th, 2021