Seasonal Affective Disorder


Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mood disorder – a type of depression that is related to the changes in the seasons. Most commonly S.A.D. presents in the late fall and lasts throughout the winter. Generally symptoms start off mild and worsen as the season continues.

Some Symptoms of S.A.D.
Trouble concentrating
Irritability and anxiety
Low energy
Social difficulties
Craving carbohydrates
Weight gain

You don’t have to have bipolar disorder to get S.A.D., but people with bipolar disorder are at an increased risk for developing it. For example, many people with bipolar disorder can recognize a pattern in their own cycle where they become depressed in the late fall and become manic in the spring/summer. Keeping a mood diary can help you to identify your own cycles.

S.A.D. is caused by a lack of sunlight – as is generally the case during fall and winter months in most parts of Canada and other countries. This lack of sunlight effects your circadian rhythm and the hormone melatonin, which is why sleep is so important. It also reduces the serotonin level in your brain, which is directly linked to depression.

Suggested treatments include full-spectrum light boxes, exercise, outdoor exposure, proper sleep and sometimes medication. Light boxes appear to be the treatment of choice and can be quite effective. However, for those people with bipolar disorder, care should be taken as the light can sometimes trigger a manic episode. A light box should be used under the direction of your doctor. Anti-depressants alone can also trigger manic episodes.

S.A.D. Should be taken seriously, especially if the following symptoms occur:
Suicidal thoughts or actions
Social withdrawal
School/work problems
Substance abuse

My worst time is late October. It seems to hit me every year, yet every year I’m surprised. When I finally get around to looking at a calendar and realize it’s October, then I understand. Then I can go to my psychiatrist and have my medication adjusted. I’ve heard good things about light boxes. Maybe I’ll talk to my psychiatrist about getting one. Something else to add to my arsenal.

(Sources: Mayo Clinic, WebMD,

For further information on S.A.D., click here.

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