Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder, abbreviated as SAD, is becoming a frequently used term. You might have even found one or two hashtags about it on social media or heard a friend mention it, which makes you wonder what it is. In the USA, SAD affects about 6.8% of the population, of which the more significant percentage are youths and working-class individuals.

Seasonal Affective Disorder can adversely affect your work, study, relationships, physical health, and other daily routines when not adequately handled. While everyone does not suffer from SAD, it is best to know about its symptoms and how it affects life. SAD is not life-threatening, but it may trigger harmful habits or lead to deterioration in your participation in day-to-day activities when it is not handled correctly.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a condition that causes a decline in mood. It starts and stops at about the same time every year and is characterized by the same symptoms and signs.

More SAD cases typically occur during fall into the winter, even though the disorder can also occur during spring into summer periods; it is less prominent during this time.

Since Seasonal Affective Disorder is seasonal, it is classified into two types which includes:

  • Fall and winter SAD
  • Spring and summer SAD

Fall and Winter SAD

Although there is no specific cause(s) of Seasonal Affective Disorder, the condition popularly associates with circadian rhythms and the amount of sunlight received.

In the fall and winter periods, when the amount of sunlight received is lowest, it is believed that there are disruptions in the body’s biological clock which can trigger feelings of depression and mood swings.

More SAD cases are reported in individuals living close to the poles than to the equator as they have the lowest exposure to sunlight per year. You can also begin to feel fall and winter SAD symptoms if you recently traveled from a hotter region to a cooler area with less sunlight or having a winter experience for the first time.

Spring and Summer SAD

Less commonly, SAD is associated with a drop in serotonin and melatonin levels. A decrease in serotonin production in the brain can disrupt mood while melatonin controls the body’s sleep pattern. 

Serotonin and melatonin levels can be affected by seasonal change and reduction in sunlight exposure. But if for any other underlying cause you experience a drop in serotonin or melatonin levels, you may also experience spring and summer SAD.

Sometimes, SAD in spring and summer is attributed to a high percentage of activities.  In this case, residents of Polar Regions are more likely to fall victim to spring and summer SAD; this is because, during this season, people are usually more active, working more rigorously to meet up with vacations. These could trigger depression and mood swings, especially when individuals can’t cope with the heavy demand of the season.

Signs and Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Ever discovered that you tend to feel depressed only during specific periods or seasons of the year? Then, you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. 

The signs and symptoms associated with SAD are:

  1. Feelings of sadness or unhappiness occurring almost all the time
  2. A feeling of weakness and low energy
  3. Loss of interest and lack of motivation to perform regular daily routines
  4. Strange eating habits such as excessive eating, junk craving, or loss of appetite
  5. Difficulty concentrating on current activity
  6. Noticeable changes in sleep patterns such as inability to find sleep, nightmares, or oversleeping.
  7. Irritation and anxiety
  8. Low self-esteem and feelings of guilt
  9. Suicidal thoughts

Specifically, you may find yourself sleeping more, overeating, and gaining weight if you have fall-and-winter SAD. Conversely, spring-and-summer SAD is usually characterized by lack of sleep (insomnia), loss of appetite, and weight loss.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is usually self-diagnosable, easy to treat, and regarded as a mild mental condition. However, if you think you have observed symptoms associated with SAD in yourself or a close one, you should consult a mental health care practitioner and combat it only as instructed.

Who does Seasonal Affective Disorder Affect?

Research has shown that Seasonal Affective Disorder is more likely to occur in women and younger adults. 

Activities and daily routines can also trigger SAD in more persons than others. If you fall into any of these categories, you are more likely to experience fall and winter SAD:

  • If you reside in regions very close to the poles
  • If the nature of your job or daily activities exposes you to a significant amount of sunlight that the average person
  • If you have recently traveled from a very hot and humid region to a very cold region with low sunlight intensity
  • If you are experiencing your first winter ever
  • If your body system is susceptible to cold

These set of persons may suffer from spring and summer SAD than others:

  • Those who reside very close or directly at the equator
  • Those who are remote workers or have working conditions that demand them to remain indoors all day.
  • Those who have recently traveled from a very cold region to a tropical or hot area with sunlight exposure per day
  • If you are experiencing your first summer ever
  • Those whose body system is susceptible to heat
  • Those who have underlying conditions that can trigger fluctuations, particularly reduction in the body serotonin and melatonin levels
  • Those whose daily routines are usually disrupted in summer due to vacations and greater financial burden.

Wrapping Up

There are a couple of ways to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. These include the use of medications, mental health therapy, and phototherapy or light therapy. Don’t assume your SAD to be very mild and expect it to diffuse out when the season changes; you should always give yourself proper medical attention. If you are experiencing the symptoms of  Seasonal Affective Disorder, quickly talk to a licensed mental health therapist at Medicwell to receive the support you need.


Jennifer Billings is the Medical Editor at National Coronavirus Hotline(NCH). She is an Integrated medical doctor who has been published on NCH Blog, Medium.com and is a regular contributor at MedCity News, Physician Family, and Psychology Today.