Winter is upon us, and with that can come a series of unpleasant feelings, more so than all the snow and cold already do!

Seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD, is a type of depression that is related to the changes in seasons, typically beginning in the fall and continuing into the winter months (winter pattern SAD) but can also occur in the spring or early summer (summer pattern SAD).

Some people will often brush symptoms off as the “winter blues” however this is a diagnosable disorder that can be treated. In order to be diagnosed with SAD, individuals must meet criteria for major depression coinciding with specific seasons (The National Institute of Mental Health Information Resource Center, March 2016).

Symptoms of major depression include:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Having low energy
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Sleep problems
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Symptoms of winter pattern SAD include:

  • Low energy levels
  • Hypersomnia
  • Overeating
  • Weight gain
  • Carbohydrate cravings
  • Social withdrawal

Symptoms of summer pattern SAD include:

  • Loss of appetite resulting in associated weight loss
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Episodes of violent behavior

Along with meeting the criteria for major depressive disorder, as well as for either winter or summer pattern SAD, individuals must also have experienced the symptoms for 2 years and the seasonal depression must occur more frequently than non-seasonal depressions.

Some ways to treat and prevent SAD:

  • Physical exercise. Try exercising for 30 minutes a day, 3 times a week.
  • Medication. Talk to your doctor about antidepressant medication.
  • Light therapy. You sit in front of a special light box and are exposed to bright light. The light mimics natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood.
  • Vitamin D. Try to spend some amount of time outside every day, even when it's very cloudy. The effects of daylight are still helpful.
  • Psychotherapy. Consider consulting a mental health professional.

Overall, it's normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can't get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, it is highly encouraged to go see your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or you feel hopeless or think about suicide.


Submitted by: Burnett County Health and Human Services

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