Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD or Winter Depression, is a kind of depression caused by the effect of the change of seasons and decreased sunlight.  SAD usually begins when daylight begins to decrease.  SAD is not a unique mood disorder, but is a sub type of major depression. Winter depression is recognized as a common disorder, with its prevalence in the U.S. ranging from 1.4 percent in Florida to 9.7 percent in New Hampshire. The symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder mimic those of dysthymia or even major depressive disorder. Subsequently, there is also potential risk of suicide in some patients experiencing SAD. One study reports 6–35% of sufferers required hospitalization during one period of illness.

Seasonal affective disorder affects both men and women and may be characterized by typical depressive symptoms.  These include:

Depressed mood for most of the day.

Disturbed appetite or change in weight.

Disturbed sleep.

Psychomotor retardation or agitation.

Loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities; inability to enjoy usual hobbies or activities.

Fatigue or loss of energy.

Feelings of worthlessness; excessive and/or inappropriate guilt.

Difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly.

Morbid or suicidal thoughts or actions.

SAD symptoms are not only winter blues and subtle changes in eating and sleeping but also cravings for sweets and starches, fatigue, irritability, social withdrawal and depression, changes which disappear during spring and summer.

Additionally, to qualify for Seasonal Affective Disorder, the depressive symptom onset and remission must occur at a particular time of the year; these patterns must have lasted two years with no non-seasonal major depressive episodes during that same period; and these seasonal depressive episodes outnumber other depressive episodes throughout the patient’s lifetime.

Because the primary disorder is Major Depression, experts have determined that the best treatments for SAD are cognitive behavior therapy or “talk therapy”, combined with anti-depressant drugs and possibly bright light therapy. Often times a chronic or low grade depressive disorder known as dysthymic disorder may persist throughout the year and worsen during the winter.  This is not a true SAD, but is a true depressive disorder.

Although there are many theories about SAD, experts highlight that production of melatonin, a sleep hormone related to depression, may increase over winter. Meanwhile, the amount of serotonin, which is a brain chemical triggered by sunlight, is thought to increase with the lack of sunlight.

As there is evidence that light intensity and temperature also may play a role in developing SAD the related depression can vary.  It is also known that the percentage of people with affective disorder increases with increasing latitude, as shorter days seem to trigger symptoms.

There is some evidence that suggests the quicker a disorder is recognized and treated, the better the chances for a positive outcome.  Fortunately, there is now an Intensive Outpatient Program in Memphis, TN that has been proven to be effective in the treatment of depressive disorders.   Our programs provide services to those who need more treatment than one hour a week, but less than 24 hour care, by providing three hours of treatment per day, three to five days per week, in an intensive outpatient setting.  If you or a loved one is showing signs of depression, they should be assessed by a trained mental health professional who can help design a treatment plan that can result in recovery.  Treatment for depression can be highly successful.  Call us at 901-682-6136 to schedule an appointment.