Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

What are the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder?

Although there is no specific diagnostic test for the illness, it is understood that since it is a form of depression, the symptoms of the condition include tiredness, fatigue, sadness or a sense of general discontent, crying spells, irritability, apathy, trouble concentrating, body aches, loss of sex drive, poor sleep, decreased activity level, and appetite changes, particularly overeating, especially of carbohydrates and weight gain. When the condition occurs during the summer, the symptoms are more commonly insomnia, poor appetite, and weight loss, in addition to anxiety, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and crying spells. Social isolation, with the potential resulting loneliness, also occurs at times with summer seasonal affective disorder. If the condition is severe, it can be associated with thoughts of suicide.

The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder typically tend to begin in the fall each year, lasting until spring. The symptoms are more intense during the darkest months. Therefore, the more common months for the condition to occur will vary depending on how far away from the equator one lives.

What are causes and risk factors for seasonal affective disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder seems to develop from inadequate exposure to bright light during the winter months. Studies show that bright light changes the chemicals in the brain. Exactly how this occurs and the details of its effects are being studied. Factors like high levels of melatonin and low levels of serotonin in the brain, as well as low levels of vitamin D levels in the blood are found to be associated with a higher occurrence of seasonal affective disorder and some other depressive conditions.

How do health-care professionals assess and diagnose seasonal affective disorder, and what types of specialists treat this condition?

A number of different health professionals can be qualified to evaluate and treat seasonal affective disorder, including primary-care providers, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, psychiatric nurses, social workers, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/31/2016

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