Is Seasonal Depression Real?

seasonal affective disorder

It's no secret that colder weather, snow and less time outdoors can be a buzzkill to some of us. But did you know that seasonal changes can actually cause depression? Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) plays a role in nearly half a million Americans' lives. Signs of SAD usually begin in autumn and continue into the winter months for those who suffer from the disorder, but others do experience it in spring and summer as well. SAD saps your energy and makes you feel moody. Treatments include light therapy (phototherapy), psychotherapy and medications.

>> Read more: Identifying and Coping with Depression

SAD occurs more in women than in men, especially younger women. It isn't just the "winter blues" and you don't have to muddle through it on your own. Read on to learn about the symptoms of different types of SAD.

Major Depression: Seasonal affective disorder is a subset of major depression that comes and goes with seasonal changes. Some of the symptoms of major depression may be a part of SAD, such as:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day and almost every day
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Having low energy
  • Losing interest in activities you used to thoroughly enjoy
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Frequent thoughts about death or suicide.

Fall and Winter SAD: Often called "winter depression," fall and winter SAD occurs during the colder, darker months of the year. Symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Problems getting along with others
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Heavy "leaden" feeling in your arms or legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially experiencing cravings for foods high in carbs
  • Weight gain.

>> Read more: Top Ten Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress

depressed woman

Spring and Summer SAD: Although less common than fall and winter SAD, spring and summer SAD does occur nonetheless. Symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Trouble sleeping or insomnia
  • Weight loss
  • Agitation or anxiety.

It's normal to feel sad sometimes. But if you feel sad for days at a time or even longer, or if you can't get motivated to do things you once loved doing, you should see your doctor. You should especially make sure to see your doctor if your sleeping patterns or appetite change, if you feel hopeless, if you think about suicide often or if you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation.

>> Read more: 20 Tips to Relax You ASAP

Although the exact cause of seasonal affective disorder is unknown, a few factors come into play:

  • Biological clock (circadian rhythm): The reduced levels of sunlight in the fall and winter months could disrupt your body's internal clock and lead to depression.
  • Serotonin levels: A drop in serotonin, a hormone that affects your mood swings, is often caused by the lower amounts of sunlight in the fall and winter.
  • Melatonin levels: The change in season can affect your melatonin levels, which plays a role in your sleep patterns and mood.

Source: Mayo Clinic