seasonal affective disorder


What is Seasonal Affective Disorder


Just what is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Originally described in 1984 by Normal Rosenthal and his colleagues, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)is a condition of depression that has a seasonal component.

SAD isn’t considered a specific diagnosis, but is a specifier within the diagnosis of major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder.  If you have depression or bipolar disorder with a seasonal component, you might have SAD (Jacobson et al ,1987).

Keep in mind, that as with all mental health diagnoses, there is confusion and overlapping symptoms. Some professionals don’t believe it exists! I believe it does as I have seen clear evidence in my practice of it. It is important to identify it if this component if present, because it may help to inform the therapist or doctor that is treating you.

The best definition I have found of seasonal effective disorder is this. A form of clinical depresion that reoccurs every year. It begins in the fall and winter and ends in the spring and summer ( Rohan 2009).


What is the criteria for determining what is seasonal affective disorder?


If you think you may have seasonal affective disorder, keep in mind that everyone has seasonal patterns of functioning and most people are more likely to be sluggish or blue in the winter and energized in the spring and summer.  This pattern does not mean you have seasonal affective disorder. You MUST have depression or bipolar disorder to qualify for this specifier.  But it is true, that many people have sub clinical ( significant but not enough to have a diagnosis) symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Often this is referred to as the Winter Blues. You should still seek help even if you are struggling with blues. Therapy will just be quicker and more effective!

What is the criteria for SAD?

You get depressed every year during the same season. After the season is over you aren’t depressed. For two years you have this pattern. If you get depressed at other time, it still seems that you are mostly depressed during one season and fine during another. (APA, 1994)

Also, learn about summer depression here.


How patterns help us determine what is seasonal affective disorder


Most typically there is a fall/winter onset known as winter depression but another onset has been identified called summer depression which starts in the early summer and spring. These are characterized by differences in symptoms.

Winter seasonal affective disorder often consists of a group of symptoms less typical in depression: daytime drowsiness, carbohydrate craving, weight gain, fatigue, and excessive sleepiness.( Jacobson et al, 1987). Click here to learn more in depth about the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

Leave what is seasonal affective disorder for this page on  depression in women.

Interesting facts about what is seasonal affective disorder



  • Seasonal affective disorder is more likely to affect women than men. In fact it is four times more likely to affect women than men!
  • ( Jacobson, 1987)
  • Women with SAD are more likely to have PMS. Suggesting, perhaps, that there is a hormonal component.
  • ( Portella et al, 2006)
  • Studies have shown it to be more common in higher altitudes and to last longer in higher altitudes.(Mersch et al, 1999)
  • Just like adults, kids can have SAD!
  • Most sufferers also have difficulty with a weakened immune system!( Leu et al ,2001)
  • People over 65 are less likely to have SAD.
  • Light Therapy, antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy help with seasonal affective disorder. Click here to learn more about treatments.
  • Bulimia Nervosa, a diagnosis which also has a seasonal component, often coocurs with SAD ( Lam et al 2006)
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder has the lowest rates in Florida and the highest rates in Alaska.


What are the causes of seasonal affective disorder?


Theories about what causes seasonal affective disorder have to do with melatonin, serotonin, and changes in circadian rhythm( Jacobson, 1987). The fact that exposure to light has helped people with SAD suggests that certain mechanisms be studied to understand the cause.


Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.


Rohan, Kelly J. Coping with the  Seasons :  A  Cognitive Behavioral  Approach to Seasonal Affective Disorder, Workbook, Oxford University Press, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central,


Jacobsen, F. M., Wehr, T. A., Sack, D. A., James, S. P., & Rosenthal, N. E. (1987). Seasonal Affective Disorder: A Review of the Syndrome and Its Public Health Implications. American Journal Of Public Health, 77(1), 57-60.

Lam, et al. (2004). Seasonal mood symptoms in bulimia nervosa and seasonal affective disorder Comprehensive Psychiatry, 32(6),552-558.

Leu SJ et al, “Immune-inflammatory markers in patients with seasonal affective disorder: effects of light therapy”, J Affect Disord. 2001 Mar; 63(1-3): 27-43.

Mersch, P. P. A., Middendorp, H. M., Bouhuys, A. L., et al (1999) Seasonal affective disorder and latitude: a review of the literature. Journal of Affective Disorders, 53, 35 -48.

Portella AT, Haaga DA, Rohan KJ.The association between seasonal and premenstrual symptoms is continuous and is not fully accounted for by depressive symptoms. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2006 Nov;194(11):833-7.

Taylor-Walker, C. (2011). Clinical: The basics – Seasonal affective disorder. GP: General Practitioner, 24.

Wehr TA, Giesen HA, Schulz PM, Anderson JL, Joseph-Vanderpool JR, Kelly K, Kasper S, Rosenthal NE. (1991). Contrasts between symptoms of summer depression and winter depression J Affect Disord. 1991 Dec;23(4):173-83.

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Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.

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