top of page

Ways to Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder aka SAD or Seasonal Depression

By: Loveli Brown

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder is a strong tendency to become depressed during a specific time of the year—most often in late fall, continuing into winter. There can be other years when the dip is milder than a full depression, or even absent. Summers are most often symptom-free. The term “seasonal affective disorder” was coined in the 1980s by Norman Rosenthal, MD, a psychiatrist, and research scientist who studied mood and biological rhythm disorders at the National Institutes of Mental Health.

About 5 percent of adults in the U.S. experience SAD and it typically lasts about 40 percent of the year. It is more common among women than men. SAD may begin at any age, but it typically starts when a person is between ages 18 and 30.

There are two onsets of SAD:

1) Fall-onset: This is also called "winter depression." Symptoms of depression begin in the late fall to early winter months and ease during the summer months.

2) Spring-onset: This is also called "summer depression." Symptoms of depression begin in late spring to early summer. This type is much less common.

The following are the most common symptoms of SAD:

• Increased sleep and daytime drowsiness

• Loss of interest and pleasure in activities formerly enjoyed.

• Social withdrawal and increased sensitivity to rejection

• Irritability and anxiety

• Feelings of guilt and hopelessness

• Fatigue, or low energy level

• Decreased sex drive

• Decreased ability to focus or concentrate.

• Trouble thinking clearly.

• Increased appetite, especially for sweets and carbohydrates

• Weight gain

• Physical problems, such as headaches

While the symptoms for Seasonal Affective Disorder can range from mild to moderate or moderate to severe depression. There are treatments out there that may help depending on how you are affected by SAD.

Light Therapy

In light therapy, also called phototherapy, you sit a few feet from a special light box so that you're exposed to bright light within the first hour of waking up each day. Light therapy mimics natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood.

Light therapy is one of the first line treatments for fall-onset. It generally starts working in a few days to a few weeks and causes very few side effects. Research on light therapy is limited, but it appears to be effective for most people in relieving symptoms.

Before you purchase a light box, talk with your health care provider about the best one for you, and familiarize yourself with the variety of features and options so that you buy a high-quality product that's safe and effective. Also ask about how and when to use the light box.


Talk therapy, particularly cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), can effectively treat SAD. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the type of antidepressant most commonly used to treat SAD.

Talk therapy (CBT) may focus on the following areas:

• Learn healthy ways to cope with, especially with reducing avoidance behavior and scheduling meaningful activities.

• Identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse.

• Learn how to manage stress.

• Build in healthy behaviors, such as increasing physical activity and improving your sleep patterns.


Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and bupropion (Wellbutrin XL, Aplenzin) are often recommended to manage SAD. Some people find vitamin D supplementation to be beneficial.

There are also things you can do for yourself to help relieve symptoms:

• Get help. If you think you may be depressed, see a healthcare provider as soon as possible.

• Set realistic goals considering depression. Don't take on too much. Break large tasks into small ones, set priorities, and do what you can as you can.

• Try to be with other people and confide in someone. It is usually better than being alone and secretive.

• Do things that make you feel better. Going to a movie, gardening, or taking part in religious, social, or other activities may help. Doing something nice for someone else can also help you feel better.

• Get regular exercise.

• Expect your mood to get better slowly, not right away. Feeling better takes time.

• Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.

• Stay away from alcohol and drugs. These can make depression worse.

• Delay big decisions until the depression has lifted. Before deciding to make a significant transition—change jobs, get married or divorced—discuss it with others who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.

• Remember: People rarely "snap out of" depression. But they can feel a little better day-by-day.

• Try to be patient and focus on the positives. This may help replace the negative thinking that is part of the depression. The negative thoughts will disappear as your depression responds to treatment.

• Let your family and friends help you.

Vitamin D levels decline in winter both for people who experience SAD and those who don’t. The common cause is reduced outdoor daylight exposure to the skin, rather than the eyes. However, there is no convincing evidence that vitamin D supplements are therapeutic for SAD. "Cleveland Clinic"

Key points about SAD

• SAD is a type of depression that happens during a certain season of the year—most often fall and winter.

• There is no clear cause of SAD. Less sunlight and shorter days are thought to be linked to a chemical change in the brain and may be part of the cause of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone, also may be linked to SAD.

• In general, nearly everyone with depression has ongoing feelings of sadness, and may feel helpless, hopeless, and irritable.

• SAD may be diagnosed after a careful mental health exam and medical history done by a psychiatrist or other mental health professional.

• Depression is most often treated with light therapy, therapy, and in some cases antidepressants.

Click here to check out our video about Seasonal Affective Disorder on YouTube.

If you or anyone that you know are struggling with mental health related issues, please reach out for help.

Mental Health Resources:

(800) 232-4636

(800) 422-4453

Text HOME to 741741

Disaster Distress Helpline Videophone for American Sign Language Users (PDF, 180KB)

(888) 628-9454

(800) 799-7233

(877) 472-3457

(800) 656-4673


For TTY Users: Use your preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988

(800) 662-4357

988, then PRESS 1

Text 838255



bottom of page