Youth Services System

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Have you ever heard of "cabin fever," or “the winter blues”? And have you ever wondered if those “blues” were real?

woman walking through blizzard

It turns out, feelings of sadness during the colder months can be a legitimate condition. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) brings symptoms of depression at the same time each year. Winter is the most common season in which people experience SAD; SAD in the winter is considered “classic” SAD. More rarely, people can also experience SAD in the summer, often with more feelings of anxiety than depression.

Symptoms of SAD can include oversleeping, difficulty getting up in the morning, nausea, lethargy, social withdrawal, loss of interest and concentration, feelings of sadness and darkness, and excessive food cravings, which can lead to weight gain.

One possible cause of SAD might be the decrease in sunlight during the winter. Sunlight naturally regulates human behavior and emotion, so the lack of it can cause changes in that behavior and emotion. With such short periods of daily sunlight in the winter in the state of Alaska, about 10 percent of Alaskans have experiences SAD at some point in their lives.

Seasonal affective disorder is not considered its own separate disorder, but is considered related to major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder. However, those who experience SAD do not necessarily suffer from major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder.

Treatments of SAD can include light therapy, aromatherapy, physical activity, taking vitamin D, and taking the hormone melatonin. Medications, antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may also be used to treat SAD. SSRIs can help keep more serotonin in the brain, which can help regulate serotonin levels. Those who suffer from SAD are thought to have lower levels of serotonin.

Spending as much time outdoors as possible, even in the winter, can also ease symptoms of SAD, as can sticking to a strict daily and nightly routine. If possible, a trip to a warmer climate can also help those who suffer from SAD.

If you suffer from SAD, or if you struggle with your mental health in any way, reach out to us. We’re here to help.

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Topics: Mental Ilness, Mental Health, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Depression, Anxiety