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The Relationship Between Seasonal Affective Disorder and Depression

Seasonal Affective Disorder

The end of daylight savings time means the days get shorter and it gets dark earlier. This can make anyone feel a little depressed, but for some people, those feelings take on a different level and lead to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and depression. Many people may just disregard their feelings, but doing so can be dangerous.

Let’s take a look at SAD and depression so that you can better understand your feelings and discover ways to improve your mood.

What is SAD?

SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, is a type of depression that’s connected to the change of seasons. If you suffer from SAD, you’ll probably start noticing a shift in your feelings right when fall or winter hits. Although SAD can affect people in the spring and early summer as well, it’s much less common.

Some people brush off SAD as just a case of the “winter blues,” but it’s much more than that. The causes of SAD differ from person to person and, of course, not everyone will experience all of them. Some common causes include:

  • Decreased serotonin levels: Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that affects mood and is affected by a decrease in sunlight. Since there is less sunlight in the fall and winter, a drop in serotonin may be to blame for SAD.
  • Change in melatonin levels: Just as with the serotonin levels, a change of season can impact the body’s melatonin levels. Since melatonin affects sleep patterns and mood, this could also be linked to SAD.
  • Changes in your circadian rhythm: The decrease in sunlight can throw off your body’s internal clock, leaving you feeling depressed.

Statistics show that for those with SAD, symptoms are around 40% of the year. Some people don’t have SAD every year. In fact, 30-50% do not show any symptoms every winter.

You may suffer from SAD if you start feeling lethargic and don’t get excited by much when fall and winter arrive. Common symptoms include:

  • Feeling depressed most of the time
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • A decrease in energy
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless

While many of the symptoms of SAD can be similar to depression, the important thing to remember about SAD is that the symptoms begin when the season changes. Symptoms will usually start off mild but typically get worse to the point that you lose total motivation, as well as affecting your appetite and sleep patterns. If you already live with depression, SAD can exacerbate those symptoms and make them even more debilitating. In severe cases, this can even bring suicidal thoughts.

Dr. Norman Rosenthal, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School, first brought the condition to light in 1984 when he started experiencing symptoms. When the seasons changed he felt less energetic and creative and slowed down. But that changed when summer came around again.

Soon after people heard about Rosenthal’s experiences, other people reported having the same feelings when the seasons changed. According to Rosenthal people with SAD do deal with major depression, sometimes showing symptoms that are more severe than normally diagnosed depression.

Treating SAD and Depression

If you are suffering from seasonal affective disorder and depression, you don’t have to just wait for it to pass, nor should you. There are things you can do to start feeling like yourself again. Before trying any treatments, be sure to consult with your doctor first.

Light Therapy

Light therapy is one of the most commonly recommended treatments for SAD. Getting a daily dose of bright light in the morning can help with your mood. There are some lamps that emit bright lights as well as lightboxes that are made for this purpose.


Getting moving is known to boost “feel-good” neurotransmitters. This can improve mood and your general health at the same time. This is a great thing to incorporate into your daily routine if you’re suffering from SAD or another case of depression.

Seek Counselling

Whether you’re suffering from SAD or year-round depression, seeking the help of a therapist can be beneficial. Sometimes talking about your feelings with someone who is just there to listen can help.

Eat Healthy

Too many sugary or processed foods could actually lead to depression. A study found that women who had a large number of refined carbohydrates, like white bread, soda, and white rice had a greater risk of depression. By staying away from these foods, you can help improve your mood and your waistline.

Take a Vitamin D Supplement

Along with healthy eating, you may consider adding some supplements as well. One theorized cause of SAD is a lack of vitamin D and its benefits because of the reduced amount of sunlight during the fall and winter from shorter days and dreary overcast. Adding a vitamin D supplement may help alleviate some of the side effects of not having as much time in the sun during this time.


Your SAD may also be causing sleeping issues that need to be diagnosed and treated. Hypersomnia, being excessively sleepy during the day, is one of them. Your doctor may recommend changing or adding medications to alleviate this problem.

Some people also turn to therapies like CBD oil to treat their seasonal affective disorder. By reading up on the potential benefits, you can decide if this is right for you.

If you begin to feel depressed when the seasons change, it’s important to know the signs of SAD and the medical reasons behind them. Whether you’re experiencing SAD or have been diagnosed with depression, there are plenty of treatments available to improve your mood, increase your energy, and make you feel like yourself again.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author:  Sam Bowman writes about people, tech, wellness and how they merge. He enjoys getting to utilize the internet for community without actually having to leave his house. In his spare time he likes running, reading, and combining the two in a run to his local bookstore.

Image Source: Pixabay

The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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