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Is Seasonal Depression Real?

At certain times of the year, you may find yourself afflicted by unexplained feelings of sadness, helplessness or guilt. Normally, such feelings might be viewed as symptoms of depression, but you may decide to disregard them since they fade in time.
crying woman

However, your seasonal depression symptoms may actually be an indication of a very real condition called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Essentials

Doctors don’t view seasonal affective disorder as a completely separate form of depressive illness. Instead, it is a specific manifestation of major depression, a severe depressive condition that affects millions of Americans. However, instead of occurring at various points throughout the year like most cases of major depression, SAD only appears during the transitions between seasons. The vast majority of affected people experience the onset of their symptoms when fall transitions into winter. However, some people experience the onset of SAD when spring transitions into summer.

Several population groups have unusually high risks for developing seasonal affective disorder. The greatest risks appear in two groups: women and people who live well north or south of the equator. Your chances of experiencing the condition also increase if:

  • Depression of any kind runs in your family
  • You’re a young adult, or
  • You have a separately diagnosable depressive illness or bipolar illness

SAD Diagnosis

In order for your seasonal depression to meet the criteria for a SAD diagnosis, you must experience the same types of symptoms common to all cases of major depression. Examples of these symptoms include:

  • Sleeping difficulties
  • A persistent “down” mood
  • Declining mental clarity
  • Declining energy levels
  • A sense of worthlessness or hopelessness
  • A decline or increase in your normal appetite, and
  • Loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy

These symptoms must affect you for two years or longer during wintertime or summertime. You may also feel depressed at other times of the year. However, your seasonal symptoms must appear with much greater regularity than your general symptoms.

Unique SAD Symptoms

People affected by seasonal affective disorder tend to experience specific forms of common major depression symptoms. The list of most typical problems includes:

  • Excessive food consumption that leads to weight gain
  • A specific preference for foods rich in carbohydrates
  • Unusual sleepiness (i.e., hypersomnia), and
  • Withdrawal from social interactions

In some cases, you may also experience less typical symptoms such as:

  • A decline in food intake that leads to weight loss
  • Sleeplessness
  • An anxious or restless mental state
  • An agitated mental state, or
  • Violent outbursts

As can be seen by the list of related symptoms, seasonal depression, or SAD, is definitely a real mental health condition.


National Institute of Mental Health: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Mayo Clinic: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Posted on March 12th, 2017
Posted in Depression

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