Home Disorders Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors and Treatment

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors and Treatment

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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors and Treatment

What is a Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons and it typically starts in the late fall and early winter. It goes away during the spring and summer. Depressive episodes associated to the summer can happen, but are much less common than winter episodes of SAD.

Signs and Symptoms of SAD

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is not considered as a separate disorder. It is a type of depression exhibiting a repetitive seasonal pattern.

Symptoms of Major Depression that lead to SAD:

  1. You feel depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  2. You are feeling hopeless or worthless
  3. You constantly have low energy
  4. You are starting to lose interest in activities you once enjoyed
  5. You tend to have problems with sleeping
  6. You start to experience changes in your appetite or weight
  7. You are starting to feel sluggish or agitated
  8. You began to have difficulty in concentrating
  9. Your thoughts of death or suicide have turned frequent

Symptoms of the Winter Pattern of SAD include:

  1. You begin to have low energy
  2. You experience hypersomnia
  3. You start to overeat
  4. You begin to gain weight
  5. Your craving for carbohydrates has become extreme
  6. You start to have social withdrawal which equals to the feel of hibernating

Symptoms of the less frequently occurring summer seasonal affective disorder include:

  1. You began to have poor appetite with associated weight loss
  2. You experience insomnia
  3. Agitation and restlessness starts to occur in you
  4. Episodes of violent behavior and anxiety start to happen

Risk Factors

Attributes that may increase your risk of SAD include:

  • Being a female, SAD is diagnosed four times more often in women than in men
  • SAD is more frequent in people living far from the equator
  • You have a family history of SAD and it is likely to develop with people who have a family history of other types of depression
  • You have been diagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder
  • You are at a younger age and SAD has been reported even in children and teens

Treatments and Therapies

There are four major types of treatment for SAD:

  1. Medication
  2. Light therapy
  3. Psychotherapy
  4. Vitamin D intake

These types of treatments may be used alone or in combination.


The medication used to treat SAD is the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). The use of bupropion, another type of antidepressant, for treating SAD has also approved by the FDA.

Light Therapy

A mainstay of treatment for SAD since the 1980s is light therapy. Light therapy is replacing vitamin D depletion during fall and winter months. Light therapy is daily exposure to bright, artificial light.


A type of psychotherapy that is effective for SAD is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT-SAD uses basic techniques of CBT such as identifying negative thoughts and replacing them with more positive thoughts. It is used along with a technique called behavioral activation. Activities that are engaging and pleasurable, whether indoors or outdoors, can help the person improve.

Intake of Vitamin D

Low blood levels of vitamin D were found in people with SAD. Due to insufficient dietary intake or insufficient exposure to sunshine, low levels happen.