sad girl looking out window

Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder

November 5, 2021

By Dr. Tracanne Legatt, LPCC, LADC

As fall and winter approach, it is a great time to review Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). What is SAD, and what can we do about it?

Most often when people experience or are diagnosed with SAD, they describe feeling low or depressed in the fall and winter. SAD also impacts concentration and lack of pleasure or interest in activities that are usually enjoyable (anhedonia). Furthermore, their mood is generally non-depressed in the summer. When people begin to experience SAD, they often describe it as having the “winter blues” and typically begin to feel better as the amount of daylight increases in the spring.

About 5% of Americans experience SAD. Of those who live in the northern states, about 10% experience SAD. This makes sense due to shortened daylight during the winter months.   

If you or people you serve experience these symptoms, it is important see a medical or licensed provider to rule out medical conditions that can be root causes for low mood. Thyroid disorders and vitamin deficiencies can cause mood dysregulation as well. When we look at criteria for a diagnosis, people must meet all diagnostic criteria for two years and diagnosis should always be conducted by a professional with proper training and credentials in diagnosis.

What are some ways to help yourself or others? Establishing healthy routines are very important. Make a habit of getting outside in the daylight for about 30-minutes a day. Getting out and spending time in green spaces, light therapy, physical activity, therapy, and psychiatric services for medication management have all been studied and found to have efficacy for treating SAD.