Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder

IMAGE Many people have difficulty dealing with the darker, shorter days of winter. They struggle to get out of bed in the morning, have less energy, feel down, and gain weight. For people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), these changes are severe enough to cause significant problems in their everyday lives. But what exactly is SAD? And how can it be treated?

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is a type of depression that is thought to be caused by changes in daylight. The most common kind of SAD occurs during the winter months. The symptoms may begin in the fall and last until the early spring. Winter-onset SAD is more common in people who live at higher latitudes. While less frequent, some people experience seasonal depression during the summer months. It is not clear why summer SAD occurs, but it may be due higher temperatures and humidity.

Who Gets SAD?

Women experience SAD more often than men. It can occur at any age—though it is mostly seen in people in their twenties and thirties. Even children can be affected by SAD. But, they may experience different symptoms than adults. For example, children may be irritable instead of sad.

What Are the Symptoms?

The following symptoms typically begin in the fall, intensify in winter, and subside in spring:
  • Depressed mood, feelings of sadness
  • Cravings for sweet or starchy foods
  • Overeating
  • Significant weight gain
  • Lack of energy
  • Oversleeping or insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Social withdrawal
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Decreased sexual desire
Symptoms of summer-onset SAD may include:
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
The symptoms of SAD can range from mild to severe. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor to get the help that you need.

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