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What is Seasonal Depression?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Seasonal depression, sometimes known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression which is seasonally-linked. Many people think of winter depression when they hear about seasonal depression, because depression is very common in the winter months, especially at high latitudes where light is limited in the winter. However, people can also also experience seasonal depression in the summer, and it may take people with summer depression longer to realize the problem if they associate seasonal depression with the winter only.

Someone with seasonal depression experiences anxiety, fatigue, disinterest, and similar symptoms in the months leading up summer or winter. He or she tends to sleep a lot, eat heavy, starchy foods, and have trouble getting motivated. In the depth of the season, the depression may be severe and even debilitating. As the season ends, the patient experiences a mood improvement which can sometimes transition into mania. In order for someone to be diagnosed with seasonal depression, two or more years of a depressive pattern linked to the seasons must be present in the patient's history.

In a rare variation of seasonal depression known as reverse SAD, people experience mania during the summer months. Because seasonal depression often involves transitions between depression and mania, it can be a precursor for bipolar disorder, and in some cases, people who really have bipolar disorder may be misdiagnosed with seasonal depression, and vice versa. The treatments for these two mood disorders are very different, making a proper diagnosis critical.

For winter depression, patients seem to benefit from light therapy, including dawn simulations which are used to make the patient feel like there's more light in the day. Antidepressant medications may also be used, along with psychotherapy to give the patient an opportunity to talk about issues which may be provoking additional anxiety and depression. Summer depression or mania is typically treated with psychotherapy and medication.

People are sometimes shy to seek help for depression, especially in the case of seasonally-linked issues, because they are embarrassed or they think that they will push through it. It is not necessary to suffer from depression without assistance, and people may find their quality of life greatly improved with the assistance of a mental health professional and a few small lifestyle changes. Coping with seasonal depression can also help people be more productive at work or school during periods of depression, which can be very beneficial.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By lluviaporos — On Jan 13, 2014

@pleonasm - That's a nice idea, but it's important to remember that seasonal depression symptoms are often linked to a simple lack of sunlight and need a particular treatment. Mild depression might be treated with comfort and family and so forth, but a medical condition should be treated with the proper cure.

By pleonasm — On Jan 13, 2014

@bythewell - I read an article recently where they described how Danish people dealt with this kind of problem and they have basically based a lot of their lives around a concept that doesn't really translate to a single word in English. The closest word is maybe "coziness." But it means they try and make their surroundings and interactions with people as warm as possible in order to generate that coziness feeling in them and in others.

And scientists think that might be why they aren't affected by seasonal affective depression as often as you might expect from their long winters.

By bythewell — On Jan 12, 2014

Seasonal depression disorder is particularly common in countries where the sun is often overcast or where the days are very short during the winter.

It makes sense, because it's difficult to synthesize the same amount of vitamin D in those conditions and you might feel constantly either too cold or too warm (because of too many warm clothes). It's not a particularly comfortable time of year.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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