Battling the winter blues | Causes, symptoms, and treatments of SAD

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at a specific time of the year, usually during autumn and winter months when daylight hours are shorter.

Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder

The exact cause of SAD is not fully understood, but several factors may contribute to its development:

Biological clock (Circadian Rhythm): SAD may be linked to disruptions in the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, which regulates various physiological processes, including sleep-wake cycles, hormone production and mood.

Serotonin levels: Reduced exposure to sunlight during the darker months may lead to a drop in serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in mood regulation.

Melatonin levels: Changes in light exposure can also affect melatonin production, a hormone that influences sleep patterns and mood.

Genetic predisposition: Individuals with a family history of depression or SAD may be more susceptible to developing the disorder.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Depressed mood: Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest in activities.

Low energy levels: Fatigue, lethargy and a general sense of low energy.

Changes in sleep patterns: Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping (hypersomnia).

Appetite changes: Increased cravings for carbohydrates and weight gain.

Difficulty concentrating: Impaired focus, indecisiveness and cognitive difficulties.

Social withdrawal: Avoidance of social activities and a desire for isolation.

Diagnosis and treatment

Diagnostic evaluation: A healthcare professional will conduct a thorough assessment, including a psychiatric evaluation and consideration of the pattern of symptoms over multiple seasons.

Light therapy (phototherapy): Exposure to a bright light that mimics natural sunlight is a common and effective treatment for SAD.

Psychotherapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviours associated with SAD.

Medication: Antidepressant medications, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may be prescribed to alleviate symptoms.

Lifestyle changes: Adopting healthy lifestyle habits, such as regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, and managing stress, can contribute to symptom relief.


Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real and treatable form of depression that significantly impacts the quality of life for those affected. Recognising the symptoms and seeking appropriate treatment can help individuals manage and overcome the challenges associated with SAD, leading to improved mental well-being and overall happiness.

For further help and support can be found below.

WATC Health & Wellbeing   |   NHS   |   Mind   |   Mental Health

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