Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Symptoms and Treatments

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern, often referred to as “winter depression” because the symptoms are more apparent and tend to be more severe during the winter. Understanding SAD is crucial for mental well-being, especially for those living in regions with significant seasonal changes.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is a mood disorder subset in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year exhibit depressive symptoms at the same time each year, most commonly in winter. Unlike other forms of depression, SAD recurs at specific times of the year, often disappearing in spring and summer.

Identifying Symptoms of SAD

Symptoms of SAD can include a persistent low mood, loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities, irritability, feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness, feeling lethargic and sleepy during the day, craving carbohydrates and gaining weight. Unlike typical depression, SAD often involves excessive sleeping and an increased appetite.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of SAD isn’t completely understood, but it’s often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days. The main theory is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus from working properly, affecting the production of melatonin, serotonin and the body’s internal clock. Risk factors include geographic location (those far from the equator), family history and having another mood disorder.

Impact on Daily Life

SAD can significantly disrupt an individual’s daily life. It may affect performance at work or school, social relationships and overall daily functioning. The cyclical nature of the disorder can lead to a pattern of struggle and relief that impacts long-term planning and personal growth.

Treatment Options

Light Therapy

Light therapy involves sitting in front of or beneath a light box that emits very bright light. It simulates exposure to sunlight and is thought to cause a chemical change in the brain that lifts mood and eases other symptoms of SAD.


Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other forms of counseling can be effective in treating SAD. This therapy focuses on identifying and altering negative thoughts and behaviors that may be contributing to feelings of depression.


In some cases, antidepressant medication may be prescribed to help alleviate the symptoms of SAD, particularly if symptoms are severe.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle adjustments, such as making an effort to get as much natural sunlight as possible, exercising regularly and managing stress, can help combat SAD. Diet also plays a role, with a focus on balanced, nutritious foods.

Preventive Measures

Prevention strategies include spending time outdoors each day, even when it’s cloudy, using light boxes at the start of fall before symptoms appear, staying active and maintaining a healthy diet. Regular exercise and a well-lit environment can also help.

Seeking Help

For those suspecting they might be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), it’s crucial to seek professional assistance. Facilities such as Jonas Hill offer a wealth of resources and support, making them ideal places for starting your journey towards managing this condition effectively. Early intervention is key in better handling SAD.

If you or someone close to you requires support in addressing SAD, Jonas Hill is here to help. Located in Lenoir, North Carolina, our skilled team is committed to offering the necessary care and guidance to aid you through this period of change. We encourage you to visit us at Jonas Hill and begin your path to recovery, taking control of your life once again.

Jonas Hill Hospital & Clinic, a division of Caldwell Memorial Hospital, provides our community with safe, dignified and integrated care for patients experiencing acute mental health needs. We provide hope, treatment and healing through a holistic program of evidence-based psychiatric treatment, team-based medical care and education by engaging and dedicated professionals in a safe and healing environment. Contact us today for more information—a safe space to heal.