Healthy Mind

Seasonal affective disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is simultaneous with the change of seasons. It begins and ends at the same time each year around autumn, stealing energy and causing mood swings, before continuing on into winter. 
Usually, but unfortunately not always, these feelings dissipate by spring and summer. This disorder can be easily confused as ‘Winter Blues’, however this makes it easier to go undiagnosed.  
Symptoms vary depending on the months. Autumn and winter usually cause severe depression and by spring and summer months, these feelings become much milder. The more severe depression can cause feelings of worthlessness, a loss in interests, complications with concentrating and appetite or weight changes. 
The winter-onset of SAD, sometimes known as ‘Winter Sadness’ can produce feelings of hypersensitivity to rejection, oversleeping, an increase in appetite or lethargy. The other side of SAD, that occurs during spring and summer, is known as ‘Summer Sadness’, and has similar symptoms such as depression, insomnia and anxiety. Those with bi-polar during ‘Summer Sadness’ may feel feelings of mania and regular depression during the winter months.  
According to, causes of SAD include the effect of sunlight hours on your biological clock. The interruption to the body clock can result in feelings of depression. Similarly a drop in serotonin levels (a neurotransmitter or brain chemical) can affect your mood. The decrease in sunlight can cause a dip in the level of serotonin that the body produces. Again with melatonin, this chemical controls sleep patterns and mood which has  a big impact on SAD sufferers. 
There are determining factors that can increase your risk of this seasonal disorder, such as: already having depression, being young, family history and being female. For college students in particular, it is important to be aware of SAD when the majority of students fall into the optimum target age group.
Anyone suffering from these symptoms should visit a doctor to seek help and advice concerning symptoms. It is important for college students to get enough sleep and to have a healthy mindset, especially at stressful times such as exams and essay submission dates. 
Treatments available to Seasonal Affective Disorder include phototherapy, psychotherapy as well as medication. There are steps one can take to avoid letting the seasons get you down. Home remedies include allowing as much sunlight as possible into your lifestyle. This can include going for a walk outside each day, sitting near a window at work or in college and exercising in general. 
Supplements such as Omega 3 Fatty Acids and melatonin have been known to help relieve symptoms but not cure SAD. Yoga and meditation are also encouraged to aid depression.  
At this time of year, it can be especially difficult to cope with SAD. Anyone who thinks they may be experiencing these symptoms should consider their options carefully. SAD is a branch of depression, and if untreated it can get worse over time. 
Photo: ryan melaugh/ Flickr