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What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Woman leans against wall, looks out window and wonders what is seasonal affective disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern, typically emerging during the fall and winter months when daylight hours are shorter. As a mental health condition that can significantly impact daily life, understanding SAD is crucial, especially for adolescents who may be experiencing this disorder. 

If you or a teen you love experiences SAD, contact Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness at 855.940.6229 for our adolescent seasonal affective disorder treatment options. 

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder? 

Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that occurs at specific times of the year, usually in the autumn and winter. It is characterized by symptoms that can severely affect mood, energy levels, and overall functioning. Recognizing the signs early can help in managing the condition effectively. 

Symptoms of SAD 

The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are similar to those of regular depression but occur seasonally. This could be during summer, during winter, or during any variety of seasonal changes. Common symptoms include: 

  • Persistent low mood 
  • Loss of interest in usual activities 
  • Irritability 
  • Feelings of despair, guilt, and worthlessness 
  • Fatigue and low energy 
  • Changes in sleeping patterns (usually oversleeping) 
  • Changes in appetite (often craving carbohydrates) 
  • Difficulty concentrating 

These symptoms typically improve with the arrival of spring and longer daylight hours. However, without proper treatment, SAD can become a recurring problem year after year. 

Causes and Risk Factors 

While the exact cause of SAD is not fully understood, several factors contribute to its onset: 

  • Reduced sunlight exposure – The decrease in sunlight during the shorter days of fall and winter can disrupt your internal biological clock, leading to feelings of depression. 
  • Serotonin levels – Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood, potentially triggering depression. 
  • Melatonin levels – The change in season can disrupt the balance of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood. 

Certain risk factors increase the likelihood of developing SAD, including living far from the equator, having a family history of depression, and being female, as women are diagnosed with SAD more often than men. 

Diagnosing Seasonal Affective Disorder 

Diagnosing SAD typically involves a thorough evaluation by a healthcare professional. This may include: 

  • Physical exams to rule out other medical conditions 
  • In-depth interviews to understand the pattern of symptoms 
  • Psychological tests to assess for depression 
  • Review of personal and family medical histories 

Early diagnosis is critical to managing SAD effectively. 

Treatment Options 

Several treatment options are effective in managing Seasonal Affective Disorder: 

  • Light therapy – Using a lightbox that mimics natural sunlight can help regulate your body’s biological clock and reduce symptoms. 
  • Medication – Antidepressants may be prescribed to manage severe symptoms. 
  • Psychotherapy – Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is particularly effective in treating SAD by addressing negative thought patterns and behaviors. 
  • Holistic approaches – Incorporating therapies such as mindfulness meditation, music therapy, and expressive art therapy can provide additional support. 

At MCAW, we offer evidence-based therapies combined with holistic methods to ensure comprehensive care for our patients. Our programs are designed to support adolescents through their journey to wellness. 

Living with SAD—Tips for Seasonal Affective Disorder in Teens 

Living with seasonal affective disorder can be challenging, but with the right strategies and support, individuals can manage their symptoms effectively. Here are some tips for coping with SAD: 

  • Maintain a regular schedule – Keeping a consistent routine can help regulate your body clock. 
  • Stay active – Regular exercise can boost serotonin levels and improve mood. 
  • Seek social support – Connecting with friends and family can provide emotional support. 
  • Maximize light exposure – Spend time outdoors during daylight hours and use light therapy as recommended. 

With proper diagnosis and treatment, adolescents with SAD can learn to manage their symptoms and improve their overall well-being. If you or a loved one is struggling with SAD, do not hesitate to seek help from a qualified healthcare professional.  

Contact MCAW for SAD Help 

If you or a loved one are struggling with seasonal affective disorder, the Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness (MCAW) is here to help. Contact us today at 855.940.6229 or online to learn more about our comprehensive treatment programs and start your journey toward better mental health.