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Let's Talk: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Let's Talk: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Feb 16, 2023

Nearly 10 million Americans have seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—a form of depression that follows the change in seasons, typically beginning in late fall and subsiding in the spring. Although the cause is still unknown, there are a variety of treatments and management tools available to help those struggling with SAD. 

“While seasonal affective disorder falls on the depression spectrum, it resembles a major depressive disorder because of its recurring pattern, thus it is far more than just ‘winter blues,’” said Chris Liggio, LCSW, Clinical Supervisor Outpatient Behavioral Health, Inspira Health. “As with most conditions, how SAD presents itself varies from person to person. However, some of the common symptoms include feeling sad, having low energy, feeling worthless, not being able to concentrate, having difficulty sleeping, feeling irritable and gaining weight.” 

Diagnosing SAD can be difficult, which is why your first step should always be talking to your health care team. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a patient must meet the following criteria to be diagnosed with SAD: symptoms of major depression, depressive episodes during the winter or summer months and higher frequency of these seasonal depressive episodes.

“Little is known about the cause of SAD, but researchers have found that decreased sunlight exposure, low serotonin levels, pre-existing conditions, geographic location and a family history can all increase your risk of developing this condition,” said Liggio. “In the event you are diagnosed with SAD, there are several treatment options available to you.”

The main treatments, used either combined or individually, are:

  • Light therapy: Using a very bright lightbox, a person sits in front of this light (typically at least 10,000 lux of light) for a specific amount of time each day. 
  • Psychotherapy: Otherwise known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), counseling and group therapy has proved to be a great way to navigate these difficult times. 
  • Medication: Antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are effective in treating SAD by helping to balance the chemicals in the brain and strengthen mood changes. Additionally, incorporating a vitamin D supplement has sometimes been proven to help treat SAD symptoms.

“Preventing SAD might not necessarily be possible. However, if you have a known history of SAD, your health care provider may start you on antidepressants earlier than you maybe did in previous years—or perhaps recommend you start therapy a little sooner,” said Liggio. “But remember, SAD presents itself differently in every person. So even if you feel the slightest bit off, you need to talk to your doctor. You’re not alone. And you don’t have to figure it out alone.”

If you are interested in learning more about behavioral health services at Inspira, call 1-800-INSPIRA.

Inspira Health is a high reliability organization (HRO), which means safety is the top priority for patients and staff.

Topics: Behavioral Health, Health and Wellness