By Elizabeth Ossip, LCSW, CAP, ICADC
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression that occurs seasonally, most often during the winter months, and is linked to shortened exposure to daylight, maladaptive circadian rhythms, etc., production of serotonin in the brain. People with Winter Pattern SAD become depressed with the changing seasons in the fall or winter and experience depression and low energy, hypersomnia, overeating, weight gain, craving for carbohydrates, and social withdrawal. Much fewer people experience Summer SAD, including poor appetite with associated weight loss, insomnia, agitation, restlessness, anxiety, and episodes of violent behavior. Women are four times more likely to suffer from SAD than men (citation). Other risk factors include living in areas far from the equator, having a history of depression or bipolar disorder, having a family member with depression, and being a young adult, teen or child. There also seems to be a possible link to the overproduction of melatonin and a deficiency of vitamin D.
To have a diagnosis of SAD, you must have a seasonally cyclical depression for at least two years that is more frequent than non-seasonal depression and also meets the criteria for Major Depressive Disorder, which includes at least five of these symptoms: feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day, feeling hopeless or worthless, having low energy, losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, having problems with sleep, experiencing changes in your appetite or weight, feeling sluggish or agitated, having difficulty concentrating and having frequent thoughts of death or suicide.