Trees covered with snow.Are You Sad? Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

If the darker, shorter days of winter really get you down, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that begins in the fall and gets better in the spring.

“Seasonal affective disorder is directly related to a decrease in sunlight during the winter months,” says Edward S. Friedman, MD, a psychiatrist at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC. The lack of sunlight disrupts the body’s internal clock, which can lead to feelings of depression.

In addition to seasonal onset, SAD sufferers experience what Dr. Friedman describes as a kind of hibernation. “They stay indoors, conserve energy, eat more, and sleep more,” he explains.

Those behaviors can distinguish SAD from other types of depression. And individuals who already suffer from clinical depression may feel worse in the fall.

If you are diagnosed with SAD and your symptoms are severe enough to affect your daily life, your doctor may recommend antidepressant medications, light therapy, or psychotherapy.

While it’s normal for anyone to have a down day occasionally, don’t brush off those feelings. “Anyone with symptoms of depression that last more than two weeks should see their doctor,” advises Dr. Friedman.

Did You Know?

  • People with SAD are more likely to have a blood relative with the condition.
  • More women than men are diagnosed with SAD.
  • Exercise can help boost your mood, and relieve stress and anxiety.

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