Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a depressive disorder that occurs only at certain times of the year, usually in winter. Also known as winter depression or winter blues, SAD can lead to mood swings that begin with a reduction in daylight. These mood swings are not related to obvious stress-causing events such as seasonal unemployment.

As with other depressive disorders, SAD occurs more frequently in women than in men. Although some children and adolescents develop SAD, it does not normally occur in people under the age of 20.

Seasonal symptoms of an affective disorder

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are similar to those of major depression and include:

  • Feelings of extreme sadness or emptiness

  • Hopelessness

  • Anxiety and irritability

  • Loss of concentration

  • Loss of interest in work or pleasurable activities

  • Increase in sleep

  • Increase in appetite

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Sluggishness and fatigue

  • Aches and pains not linked to a specific illness

Diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder

There is no single laboratory test or set of tests to detect seasonal affective disorder. Your doctor may refer you to a mental health provider who will diagnose you based on your medical history, current signs and symptoms. A diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder is made after a person has experienced symptoms for two or more years.

Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder is a depressive disorder that can worsen if left untreated. Psychotherapy, medications and phototherapy, or a combination of the three, can be an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder.

Light therapy's effectiveness in treating SAD could be related to how light therapy compensates for lost sunlight and helps to reset the body's internal clock. It involves sitting in front of a bright, full-spectrum light box which mimics natural outdoor light.

CHI Health Psychiatric Associates, with offices in Omaha and surrounding areas, has highly-trained mental health providers who can address the needs of those who suffer from self-harm. If you think you or a loved one may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder, call (402) 717-HOPE.