Seasonal affective disorder
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at a certain time of the year, usually in winter.
Seasonal depression; Winter depression; Wintertime blues; SAD
SAD may begin during the teen years or in adulthood. Like other forms of depression, it occurs more often in women than in men.
People who live in places with long winter nights are at high risk of developing SAD. A less common form of the disorder involves depression during the summer months.
Symptoms usually build up slowly in the late autumn and winter months. Symptoms are often the same as with other forms of depression:
SAD can sometimes become long-term depression. Bipolar disorder or thoughts of suicide are also possible.
Exams and Tests
There is no test for SAD. Your health care provider can make a diagnosis by asking about your history of symptoms.
Your provider may also perform a physical exam and blood tests to rule out other disorders that are similar to SAD.
As with other types of depression, antidepressant medicines and talk therapy can be effective.
MANAGING YOUR DEPRESSION AT HOME
To manage your symptoms at home:
DO NOT use alcohol or illegal drugs. These can make depression worse. They can also cause you to think about suicide.
When you are struggling with depression, talk about how you are feeling with someone you trust. Try to be around people who are caring and positive. Volunteer or get involved in group activities.
Your provider may prescribe light therapy. Light therapy uses a special lamp with a very bright light that mimics light from the sun:
If light therapy is going to help, symptoms of depression should improve within 3 to 4 weeks.
Side effects of light therapy include:
People who take medicines that make them more sensitive to light, such as certain psoriasis drugs, antibiotics, or antipsychotics, should not use light therapy.
A checkup with your eye doctor is recommended before starting treatment.
With no treatment, symptoms usually get better on their own with the change of seasons. Symptoms can improve more quickly with treatment.
The outcome is usually good with treatment. But some people have SAD throughout their lives.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Get medical help right away if you have thoughts of hurting yourself or anyone else.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. 2013.
Fava M, Ostergaard SD, Cassano P. Mood disorders. In: Stern TA, Fava M, Wilens TE, Rosenbaum JF, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 29.
Osborn J, Raetz J, Kost A. Seasonal affective disorder, grief reaction, and adjustment disorder. Med Clin North Am. 2014;98:1065-1077. PMID: 25134873 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25134873.
Review Date: 2/21/2016
Reviewed By: Timothy Rogge, MD, Medical Director, Family Medical Psychiatry Center, Kirkland, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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