Winter 101 Don't Let SAD Get You Down

February 21, 2012

It may begin in adolescence or early adulthood and is more commonly diagnosed in women than in men. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) refers to episodes of depression that occur every year during the fall or winter.

The cause of SAD is not known, but it is thought to be related to a number of factors, such as ambient light, body temperature and hormone regulation.

“If you get depressed in the winter but feel much better in the spring and summer, you may have SAD. It is most common in women, ages 15 to 55, or it may be hereditary,” says Sami Baraka, M.D., a Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital primary care physician.

Symptoms, which tend to improve in the spring and summer, usually build up gradually in the late autumn and winter months and include:

  • Afternoon slumps with decreased energy and concentration
  • Increased appetite with weight gain (Weight loss is more typical of other forms of depression.)
  • Increased sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness (Problems sleeping are more typical of other forms of depression.)
  • Lack of energy and loss of interest in work or other activities
  • Slow, sluggish, lethargic movement
  • Social withdrawal
  • Unhappiness and irritability

As with other types of depression, antidepressant medications and talk therapy can be effective. Staying active can also help; for example, taking long walks during daylight hours. Light therapy using a special lamp with a very bright fluorescent light (10,000 lux) to mimic light from the sun may also be a treatment option.

Do You Have Symptoms of SAD?

Call 1-800-WYAN-DOC (1-800-992-6362) to schedule an appointment with a Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital primary care physician. Individuals who have had recurrent seasonal depression should speak with a mental health care professional to explore treatments.