Two Takes on Depression

Treating the very condition you live with––A clinician's dual perspective

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Trends and Tips

It's that time of year again.

It’s that time of year again – when the days become shorter and darkness punches in earlier at the time clock. And just like clockwork, a great number of people fall into a predictable set of symptoms around now. They slow down. They have a tough time waking up in the morning. They can’t fall asleep at night. Their energy levels decrease and a full-on fatigue takes hold. Thinking and concentrating suffer and soon they report feeling sadness, even despair.

These experiences are a set of real medical symptoms called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD generally lasts several months and then disappears when the sun shines longer and more brightly in the sky. In its full form, SAD negatively impacts productivity at work, school and home - and even in social relationships. In milder forms, SAD can cause irritability and moodiness.

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Statistics on SAD

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a pattern of significant depressive symptoms that occur and then disappear with the changing of the seasons. SAD is sometimes called "Winter Depression" or "Winter Blues".
  • SAD affects millions worldwide, primarily occurring in areas of higher latitudes from the equator.
  • SAD affects women and children more than men.
  • Awareness of this mental condition has existed for more than 150 years, but it was only recognized as a disorder in the early 1980s. Diagnosis for SAD is Major Depressive Disorder with a seasonal pattern.
  • Symptoms include many of the same symptoms of depression: sadness, anxiety, lost interest in usual activities, withdrawal from social activities and an inability to concentrate. The difference though, is that these symptoms resolve each spring and tend to occur again in late fall.
  • Individuals with SAD report sleeping an average of 2.5 hours more in winter than in the summer. The general population sleeps 0.7 hours more in the winter.
  • Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, has been linked to SAD. This hormone, which may cause symptoms of depression, is produced at increased levels in the dark. Therefore, when the days are shorter and darker the production of this hormone increases.


Treatments for SAD

  • Learn about your circadian rhythm. This is the internal biochemical cycle we all have that regulates our body with respect to sleeping, feeding and well-being. Circadian rhythms are greatly affected by sunlight.
  • Individuals with SAD have an ultra-sensitive body clock that gets thrown off when exposed to less sunlight. To help reset your body clock, sunshine or artificial light are used.
  • Consider spending more time outdoors.
  • Use sunshine to your advantage. Sit in a pool of sunlight indoors.
  • Consider buying an artificial light for Light Therapy if you can’t get natural sunshine.
  • Keep a set sleep schedule. No sleeping in or going to bed too early.
  • SAD sufferers tend to crave sweets and starches, so be mindful to keep protein in your diet as a balance.
  • Consider using antidepressants during this seasonal time.



Editorial Note: Dr. Deborah Serani is the author of Living with Depression" by Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Company.




Deborah Serani, Psy.D., is a psychologist and psychoanalyst who lives with depression and specializes in its diagnosis and treatment.


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