Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder


Lily Share ‘21, Section Editor

While the holiday season is a time of cheer for many, the lack of sunlight during these weeks can cause people to experience fatigue, depression, and social withdrawal. These are common symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

An estimated ten million Americans are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is a type of recurring depression that most people experience during the winter, with the symptoms ameliorating in the spring. Most medical professionals agree that Seasonal Affective Disorder has to do with the amount of daylight a person receives. 

While the causation of Seasonal Affective Disorder is not well understood, there is evidence that it is related to the body’s level of melatonin, a hormone concerned with the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin production increases as the winter days get shorter and darker, causing people to feel more lethargic. It could also be that people with SAD have trouble regulating their levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that influences mood. Another possibility is that people with SAD may produce less vitamin D in response to sunlight. Vitamin D is thought to play a role in serotonin activity, and clinically significant depression symptoms are often associated with insufficient amounts of vitamin D.  

Treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder include light therapy, talk therapy, vitamin D supplementation, and antidepressant medication. Light therapy consists of exposure to artificial light for a period of time in the morning. The person either sits in front of a light box or wears a light visor for about 30 to 60 minutes each day. It is also important for those affected by SAD to practice self-care. Taking advantage of available sunlight, planning activities, and approaching the winter season with a positive attitude are just some of the ways people can cope with SAD.

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