What Is Seasonal Depression?

woman coffee sadChances are, you may have experienced depression at some point in your life, but are you familiar with seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? Approximately 10 million people in the U.S. experience severe cases of SAD, while 10 to 20 percent of people suffer from milder cases. And get this: Women are four times more likely to develop SAD compared to men, and it tends to affect more people living in northern states. So what else is there to know about this fairly common disorder? Read on to find out.

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What is it?

Also known as seasonal depression, winter depression and winter blues, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at a certain time of year, typically in the winter. Although most people tend to suffer from SAD during the fall and winter, there are select few who suffer from it during the summer months instead.


SAD is believed to be caused by a lack of sunlight during the winter months since bright light is thought to have an effect on the brain’s chemicals. However, thanks to a study conducted by the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, we might be getting closer to understanding some of the details behind those chemical changes.


According to a recent BBC.com article, scientists say that with the help of brain scans, they were able to identify the underlying cause behind seasonal affective disorder. Lead researcher, Dr. Brenda McMahon, told BBC:

“We believe that we have found the dial the brain turns when it has to adjust serotonin to the changing seasons. The serotonin transporter (SERT) carries serotonin back into the nerve cells where it is not active – so the higher the SERT activity, the lower the activity of serotonin. Sunlight keeps this setting naturally low, but when the nights grow longer during the autumn, the SERT levels increase, resulting in diminishing active serotonin levels.”

While there’s still a lot of research to be done, we seem to be heading toward the right direction when it comes to better understanding SAD.

Symptoms for SAD during the Fall and Winter 

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Low energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased need for sleep
  • Increased need to be alone
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight gain

Symptoms for SAD during the Spring and Summer

  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss


There are several options when it comes to treating seasonal affective disorder. The first one is light therapy, which involves the person sitting a few feet in front of a special light therapy box. The idea is that he or she will be exposed to a bright light that mimics natural outdoor light, which causes a change in your brain’s chemicals. While there’s no scientific evidence to support light therapy, it’s seems to be effective for relieving SAD symptoms. Whenever possible, try to get outside and enjoy natural light every day.

In addition to light therapy, antidepressants, especially if the symptoms are severe, and psychotherapy are also options for treating.


Visit the BlackDoctor.org Depression center for more articles.