Trees in Fog

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Nov 17, 2020

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as Seasonal Depression, is a disorder that causes changes in mood with the changing seasons. SAD is classified as a type of Major Depressive Disorder that often gets worse in the fall and winter. It’s estimated that 6% of the U.S. population has SAD, though it’s more common in colder climates.


The most common form of SAD causes individuals to feel depressive symptoms in the fall and winter months. Symptoms typically start in the fall and go away in the spring. A less common form can cause individuals to be affected in the summer months.

Symptoms of Winter SAD

  • Feeling tired
  • Having low energy
  • Feeling frequently depressed
  • Loss of interest
  • Changes in eating
  • Difficulty concentrating

Symptoms of Summer SAD

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Poor Appetite 
  • Restlessness
  • Weight loss

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Scientists don’t know for sure what causes SAD, but research points to multiple possible factors. Reduced sunlight in winter months can reduce serotonin levels in the body, which affects your mood. Seasonal changes may also increase your melatonin levels, which can make you more fatigued and cause you to sleep more. 

People at a higher risk for SAD are typically women, young adults, people living farther from the equator, people with a family history of SAD, and people who already have depression or bipolar disorder.

How is SAD Treated?

There are several methods of treatment that have shown to be effective in treating SAD. You may benefit from some methods more than others, or a combination of treatments may work for you. You can work with your health care provider to determine the best treatment plan for you.

Some common ways to treat SAD are:

Light therapy. Light therapy is a treatment where you are exposed to a bright lightbox right after you wake up in the morning to mimic sunlight. 

Medication. Antidepressants can sometimes be used to treat SAD. Your psychiatrist or another provider will work with you to determine the best medication for you.

Therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective in treating SAD. CBT is a type of talk therapy where your therapist helps you identify and challenge negative thought patterns.

Practicing Healthy Habits. Making an effort to stay healthy, such as eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep can help. You can also try wellness techniques such as meditation, yoga, and spending time outside. In a world with COVID, it may be difficult to connect with friends, but having social support, even virtually, can make a difference.

How to Get Help

If you feel like your symptoms are getting difficult to manage, it may be time to get help. Reach out to your health care provider or mental health team. There’s nothing wrong with getting help when you need it.

If you are looking for resources related to mental health, check out our resources page.

Guild Can Help

We understand that different things, like seasonal changes, can have an impact on your mental health. We deliver person-centered care and individualize treatment to each client. Call our Community Access team at 651-925-8490 to discuss your situation and eligibility requirements.



Seasonal Affective Disorder, National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Mayo Clinic. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder, National Institute of Mental Health. 

Seasonal Depression, WebMD. 

Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern, National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

Light Therapy, Mayo Clinic. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Mayo Clinic.