What is seasonal affective disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder: Overview

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that some people get during the short days of fall and winter. You may feel unhappy and tired during fall and winter. But you feel more cheerful and have more energy in spring and summer. You may gain weight and exercise less in winter. You also may feel more grouchy during winter. You may find it hard to get along with family and coworkers.

Doctors think that having less natural light may cause SAD. Your doctor may recommend light therapy. This helps many people with SAD. With light therapy, you are near artificial bright lights for a set period of time each winter day. Most people do this in the morning. You should feel better soon after you start light therapy. You may need to keep doing it until spring. Your doctor also may prescribe antidepressant medicine and suggest exercise.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a condition in which a person feels depressed at a certain time each year. It most often occurs during the fall and winter months when days are shorter and there is less light. Treatment includes light therapy, dawn simulation, counseling, and antidepressant medicines.

What happens when you have seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can come and go at about the same time each year. You may feel unhappy and tired during fall and winter. But you feel more cheerful and have more energy in spring and summer.

What are the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

If you have SAD, you may feel sad, grumpy, or anxious. You may lose interest in your usual activities, or you may gain weight. You may eat more and crave carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta. You may also have trouble concentrating and may sleep more but still feel tired.

How is seasonal affective disorder (SAD) treated?

The main treatment for SAD is light therapy, which is exposure to bright light. Medicines, dawn simulation, and counseling may also help.

How is seasonal affective disorder (SAD) diagnosed?

To diagnose SAD, your doctor will ask if you have been depressed during the same season and gotten better when the seasons changed for at least 2 years in a row. Your doctor may also do a mental health assessment.

How can you care for yourself when you have seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

There are things you can do for yourself when you have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Getting regular exercise and getting more sunlight may help.

What puts you at risk for seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

Anyone can get seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but it's more common in:

  • Women.
  • People who live far from the equator, where winter daylight hours are very short.
  • Adults. It is less likely in children, teens, or older adults.
  • People who have other mood disorders, such as depression.

What causes seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

Experts aren't sure what causes SAD. But they think it may be caused by a lack of sunlight. Lack of light may upset your "biological clock," which controls your sleep-wake pattern and other circadian rhythms. Lack of light may also cause problems with serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood.

What is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that occurs during the same season each year. It is sometimes called winter depression or seasonal depression.

Teens: How can you care for seasonal affective disorder?

  • If your doctor recommends light therapy, use it as directed. Your doctor may have you sit or lie down a certain distance from the light. Two common types of light therapy are:
    • Bright light treatment. You sit in front of a “light box” for a certain amount of time. This is most often done in the morning. Be sure to read and follow the directions.
    • Dawn simulation. This is done while you sleep. A low-intensity light turns on at a set time in the morning before you wake up. It slowly gets brighter.
  • Tell your doctor about any conditions you have and medicines you take before you start light therapy.
  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
    • You may need to try several antidepressant medicines before you find the one that works best for you.
    • Don’t stop taking antidepressants, even after your symptoms go away. If you continue to take them, it helps prevent depression from coming back.
    • Antidepressants may have side effects, but the side effects go away after a while. Talk to your doctor about any side effects or other concerns.
  • Get plenty of exercise every day. Go for a walk or jog, ride your bike, or play sports with friends. Try to exercise first thing in the morning during winter. This may help improve your energy level and relieve depression. In bad weather, you can use an indoor treadmill or walk at a mall.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet to relieve some of the symptoms of SAD.
  • Try to spend time outside each day. Natural sunlight, even if hidden by clouds, is always helpful for people with SAD.
  • Ask your doctor about using complementary medicine, such as melatonin.
  • Do not drink alcohol or use illegal drugs.
  • Stay active. Try to do the things you usually enjoy, even if you don’t feel like doing them.
  • Do not make major decisions when you are depressed. For example, don’t decide to quit school or choose a college. You will make better decisions after you feel better.
  • If home treatment does not seem to work, consider counseling. A counselor can help you understand SAD and may help you prevent symptoms.

Seasonal affective disorder in teens: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You are thinking about suicide or are threatening suicide.
  • You feel you cannot stop from hurting yourself or someone else.
  • You hear or see things that aren't real.
  • You think or speak in a bizarre way that is not like your usual behavior.

Where to get help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

If you or someone you know talks about suicide, self-harm, a mental health crisis, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, get help right away. You can:

  • Call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
  • Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
  • Text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line.

Consider saving these numbers in your phone.

Go to 988lifeline.org for more information or to chat online.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are drinking a lot of alcohol or using illegal drugs.
  • You are talking or writing about death.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You find it hard or it's getting harder to deal with school, a job, family, or friends.
  • You think your treatment is not helping or you are not getting better.
  • Your symptoms get worse or you get new symptoms.
  • You have any problems with your antidepressant medicines, such as side effects, or you are thinking about stopping your medicine.
  • You are having manic behavior. For example, you may have very high energy, need less sleep than normal, or show risky behavior such as spending money you don't have or abusing others verbally or physically.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.