Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Not Just the Winter Blues | Health 101

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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Not Just the Winter Blues

Have you ever had a case of the winter blues? Don't brush off that feeling as simply a seasonal funk. You could be one of about 5 percent of Americans who experience seasonal depression.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression related to the changes in seasons. SAD usually occurs at a certain time of the year1.

Risk Factors

The following factors can affect who gets seasonal affective disorder.


  • Sex – Four out of five people who have SAD are women. However, men may have more severe symptoms2.
  • Location – The further you are from the equator, the more at-risk you are for SAD.
  • Age – SAD may begin at any age, but it typically starts when you are between the ages of 18 and 303.
  • History – You are at greater risk if you have a close relative who has or had SAD.
  • Depression – You are more likely to have seasonal affective disorder if you have a history of depression.



The exact cause of SAD is unknown, but some experts say it’s most likely caused by lack of sunlight. If you are like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall. They will continue into the winter months, when the mornings start later, evenings begin earlier and there is less sunlight each day4.



The signs and symptoms of SAD are similar to those of depression, building up slowly as the days start getting shorter. They go away in early spring as the amount of sunlight increases each day.


Symptoms of SAD can vary from person-to-person, but general signs may include:


  • Depression most of the day, nearly every day
  • Little interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Low energy
  • Problems with sleeping
  • Changes in your appetite or weight
  • Lazy or restless
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of hopeless or worthless
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide



It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel you have symptoms of SAD, you should see your doctor. As with other types of depression, SAD can get worse if it’s not treated. Symptoms will get better with the change of seasons, but they can improve more quickly with treatment.


In addition to treatment, you can take preventive measures to help reduce symptoms. Some forms of prevention that can help include exercising more, increasing the amount of light in your home, stress management, spending more time outside and visiting places that have more sun.



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