Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): How Seasons Can Affect Our Mood And Life

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Do you tend to get moody or feel low during the winter? Then you just might be experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Let’s take a closer look at what this condition is and how you can overcome it. 

What is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

Also known as major depressive disorder (MDD) with seasonal patterns & seasonal depression, SAD is a form of mood disorder where onset occurs due to seasonal changes. People with this mental illness tend to experience normal, healthy moods, thoughts, and emotions throughout the year but become depressed during the winter season every year.

However, the condition may also occur during the summer months as well. But the depressive symptoms typically last only for the specific season and the person can experience normal mental health during the other seasons. When occurring in winter, the condition is known as winter depression, while the summer variant is known as summer depression.

Seasonal affective disorder is a qualifier or subtype of depression and bipolar disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). A 2016 study explains, “SAD, winter type, is an almost yearly recurrent depression with the onset of symptoms in autumn/winter followed by a spontaneous recovery in spring/summer.”

Related: SAD Season Is Coming: How To Combat The Winter Blues

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): How Seasons Can Affect Our Mood And Life
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): How Seasons Can Affect Our Mood And Life

How common is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

The condition is observed in about 1-10% of the population and prevalence may be associated with latitude. This mood disorder subset is influenced by a shortage of daylight and hence, it is believed that “prevalence is higher at more northern latitudes.”

Further studies show that 6% of adults in the US, especially in northern climates, are affected by SAD, while an additional 14% of American adults suffer from winter blues, a less intense type of seasonal mood change. However, people from all across the world may suffer from seasonal affective disorder. Moreover, women are at a higher risk of developing SAD than men.

Celebrities with seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Anyone can struggle with seasonal depression and our beloved celebrities are not immune to this debilitating mental illness. Here are a few celebrities who have suffered from SAD: 

  • Rosie O’Donnell, American comedian, actress and author
  • Natalie Imbruglia, Australian-British singer and actress 
  • Jillian Barberie, Canadian-born American actress and radio personality
  • Barbara Hambly, American novelist and screenwriter

What are the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

SAD is a form of depression marked by repeated seasonal patterns. Hence, the symptoms of SAD are similar to that of major depressive disorder. The symptoms typically last for 4-5 months and specific symptoms may be observed for both winter depression and summer depression.

Here are some of the common symptoms of SAD:

  • Depressed mood almost every day for most of the time
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in pleasing activities enjoyed previously
  • Feeling guilty, ashamed or worthless
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Trouble sleeping or insomnia
  • Low energy or feeling lethargic
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling irritable and agitated
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicidal behavior

Related: What Is Morning Depression? 10 Common Signs and Treatment

Let us now look at some of the specific symptoms associated with winter-onset SAD and summer-onset SAD –

A. Specific symptoms of winter depression

  • Hypersomnia or oversleeping
  • Changes in appetite or craving high carbohydrate foods 
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of energy or exhaustion
  • Social isolation and withdrawal
  • Feelings of loneliness
  • Alcohol and substance use

B. Specific symptoms of summer depression

  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping or insomnia
  • Weight loss
  • Restlessness or anxiety  
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Aggressive behavior

Regardless of the season, the symptoms may tend to appear mild initially and may get progressively worse as the season advances. However, not everyone with the seasonal affective disorder may experience all the symptoms mentioned above.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): How Seasons Can Affect Our Mood And Life
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): How Seasons Can Affect Our Mood And Life

What causes seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

Research reveals that winter-onset SAD may be caused by changes in seasons and a lack of daylight during the winter months. However, the exact cause of SAD is yet unknown. Regardless, here are a few factors that can influence the onset of seasonal depression –

  • Latitude
  • Disruption in circadian rhythm or body clock
  • Low serotonin levels
  • Disruption in melatonin levels
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Stress, anxiety & negative thought patterns

Moreover, family history, co-occurring mental disorders (major depression or bipolar disorder), age and gender can also put someone at risk of developing SAD.

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Theo Harrison

Hey there! I am just someone trying to find my way through life. I am a reader, writer, traveler, fighter, philosopher, artist and all around nice guy. I am outdoor person but heavily into technology, science, psychology, spiritualism, Buddhism, martial arts and horror films. I believe in positive action more than positive thinking.View Author posts