Kate Thieda

Kate Thieda MS, LPCA, NCC

Partnering in Mental Health

Is Your Partner S.A.D.?

'Tis the season for feeling blue

Posted Nov 09, 2013

Daylight Savings Time here in the U.S. ended last week, and shorter days/longer nights are with us for a while. Many people notice a shift in their moods when the winter months come, but some people experience a depression that starts when the weather turns colder and lifts when the weather warms up again and the hours of daylight increase. Does this sound like your partner?

If so, your partner may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short. It’s estimated that half a million Americans suffer from SAD each year, so your partner is not alone. Common symptoms include feeling down, sadness, irritability, increased sleep, weight change, and less interest in activities that once brought pleasure. If you are thinking those symptoms sound the same as major depression, you would be right. The difference is that SAD resolves once the warmer weather appears; major depression will not lift.

There’s no reason for your partner to suffer needlessly during the winter months, waiting and hoping the symptoms will resolve themselves come April or May. Here are some facts to know about SAD:

  • Research indicates that 60-90% of people with SAD are women. If your partner is male, however, don’t fool yourself into thinking he is disqualified from the diagnosis. Male or female, help is available.
  • SAD is diagnosed when the person has suffered at least two years in a row from the same pattern of depression that sets in during the late fall and resolves in the spring. The key here is “resolves in the spring” - as I said above, if the symptoms don’t resolve when the weather improves, you are likely looking at major depression, not SAD.
  • SAD can be treated with traditional antidepressants, but light therapy is also recommended if your partner’s symptoms are mild. Light therapy consists of your partner sitting in front of a specially-designed light box for a certain amount of time each day. The theory is that the exposure to light - which your partner is not getting naturally from the sun during these months - will help lift the symptoms.

What can you do to help?

SAD is a form of depression, although it usually presents with milder symptoms than major depression. That being said, SAD needs to be taken just as seriously, and your partner can benefit from your support. Some tips for helping your partner beat SAD:

  1. Encourage your partner to seek treatment from a trained mental health professional. Only a trained clinician can make an accurate diagnosis of what is going on with your partner, and differentiate between SAD, major depression, or something else.
  2. Once your partner has a diagnosis, be supportive of the treatment plan. If it’s medication, ask your partner how you can help them remember to take the pills (if needed), and check in to see if your partner is having side effects. If the clinician recommends light therapy, help your partner research what type of light box to buy.
  3. Keep your partner active! SAD symptoms will likely keep your partner from wanting to participate in life, but it’s imperative to their recovery that they keep moving. It’s especially helpful to get them outside in natural light on the days when the sun is shining, as it’s been shown that even 20 minutes of natural light can make a difference.
  4. Remember your own self-care plan. Not only are you taking care of yourself so you can be a supportive partner, you are also being a role model.