Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of recurrent major depressive disorder in which episodes of depression occur around the same season each year. This condition is sometimes called the “winter blues.” SAD, specific to winter, may be related to changes in the amount of daylight a person receives.
Seasonal affective disorder is estimated to affect 10 million Americans. SAD is four times more common in women than in men. The age of onset is estimated to be between the age of 18 and 30. Some people experience symptoms severe enough to affect quality of life, and 6 percent require hospitalization.
Some common symptoms specific to winter SAD are:
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Tiredness or low energy
The cause for SAD is unknown. One theory is that it is related to the amount of melatonin in the body, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland. Darkness increases the body’s production of melatonin, which regulates sleep. As the winter days get shorter and darker, melatonin production in the body increases and people tend to feel sleepier and more lethargic.
Treatment approaches to alleviate the symptoms of SAD typically include combinations of antidepressant medication, light therapy, Vitamin D, and counseling.