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Seasonal Affective Disorder, Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Treatment

Causes & Risk Factors|Symptoms & Diagnosis|Treatment & Management|Key Takeaways
Seasonal Affective Disorder, Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Treatment

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression associated with changing seasons. It is most common in countries with fall and winter seasons, when the days are shorter and nights are longer. Does that mean that Filipinos do not experience? After all, we only have dry and rainy seasons. As it turns out, SAD can affect those in tropical climates as well. In this article, we discuss seasonal affective disorder symptoms, treatments, and management.

Causes & Risk Factors

While SAD is most common during fall and winter, people may also experience it any time of the year and in any type of climate. The indicator, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), is that the depression comes in a “seasonal pattern.” This means that a person with SAD will most likely have depressive episodes the same time each year. For this reason, doctors also call SAD “seasonal depression.”

What are the causes of seasonal affective disorder?

The exact cause of seasonal affective disorder is unclear, but scientists believe that the reduced exposure to sunlight is the main trigger. Reduced sunlight exposure can disrupt:

Serotonin production. Serotonin is an important chemical that regulates mood. When a person has a serotonin deficiency, they may experience symptoms of depression. Moreover, disrupted serotonin production can also negatively affect a person’s appetite, memory, sleep patterns, and sexual desire.

Melatonin production. When it’s dark, our brain secretes melatonin, a hormone that helps us sleep. In this case, the brain may produce more melatonin than usual, which leads to drowsiness and lack of energy.

Circadian rhythm. This is the body’s internal clock that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. It may be disrupted during the seasons of short days and long nights. As a result, the patient can experience disorientation, sleepiness, and other seasonal affective disorder symptoms.

What causes SAD in the summer?

Experts believe that summertime SAD can be attributed to longer days and shorter nights. With prolonged sunlight exposure or increased humidity, the patient may get too little sleep (instead of too much). In this case, sleep deprivation may trigger seasonal affective disorder symptoms.

Benefits Of Therapy That You Might Not Know About

What are the risk factors?

Anyone can experience seasonal affective disorder, but people who reside in countries with fall and winter are at a higher risk. Additionally, these factors may come into play:

Family history. According to experts, having family members who experience SAD or other forms of depression increases your risk of developing the condition.

Age. Most cases of SAD occur in people between the ages of 18 and 30. It is also less common in older people.

Gender. 75% of SAD patients are women; however, male patients are more likely to develop severe symptoms.

Symptoms & Diagnosis

What are the seasonal affective disorder symptoms?

Below are the most common seasonal affective disorder symptoms:

  • Persistent low mood, tiredness, and irritability
  • Weight gain and cravings for carb-rich foods
  • Apathy or loss of interest in daily routine or activities
  • Spending more time sleeping and difficulty getting up in the morning
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Low self-esteem and depressive mood
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Feelings of hopelessness or despair

On the other hand, the signs of seasonal depression that occurs during the summer include:

How do doctors diagnose SAD?

Since the signs of seasonal depression vary from person to person, and they could be similar to the symptoms of other depressive disorders, consulting a doctor is the best course of action to get a proper diagnosis.

Generally, to be diagnosed with SAD, the patient must meet the following criteria:

  • Exhibit symptoms of major depression.
  • The depressive symptoms follow a seasonal pattern or they only happen during a specific time of the year for at least two consecutive years.
  • After the depressive episodes, there is a period when the patient doesn’t experience depression.

It’s important to note that a person with seasonal affective disorder may not experience symptoms every year.

seasonal affective disorder symptoms

Treatment & Management


There are three treatment options to manage the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder:

Light Therapy

In this method, the patient is encouraged to get as much natural light as possible to boost serotonin levels. If natural light is not enough, the doctor can prescribe patients with a special lamp that simulates sunlight.

To increase exposure to sunlight, patients can go for walks in the morning, have their morning coffee outdoors, or increase the amount of natural light indoors by opening curtains or sitting near windows.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy or counseling. The therapist helps the patient manage negative thoughts, feelings, and behavior to improve seasonal affective disorder symptoms.


The doctor may prescribe antidepressants to treat depressive episodes. When taking antidepressants, patients should remember the following:

  • It may take a few weeks for the medications to take effect.
  • Some types of antidepressants have side effects and may interact with your current medications.
  • Antidepressants must be taken as prescribed; do not stop taking the medications or decrease the dose without consulting your doctor.

How to manage seasonal affective disorder

Besides the treatment options discussed above, patients who show seasonal affective disorder symptoms can also benefit from doing the following:


Exercising releases happy hormones such as endorphins and serotonin, which promote positive feelings and boost the mood. To get its full benefits, be sure to stay active for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.

Keeping in touch with friends and family

Maintaining close relationships is essential in managing the signs of seasonal depression. Stay in contact with loved ones through calls, instant messaging, and video chats.

Handling stress effectively

As stress can worsen seasonal affective disorder symptoms, look for an effective stress outlet. You can practice relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises and meditation, or participate in enjoyable activities that can relieve stress such as sports or arts and crafts.

Maintain a balanced diet

Having a balanced diet helps improve seasonal depression signs by boosting energy levels and lifting the mood. Additionally, some foods, like dark chocolate and leafy greens, can naturally release happy hormones in the body.

Please note that according to experts, these home remedies can also help prevent SAD.

Key Takeaways

While seasonal affective disorder is more common in countries with cold seasons, it can affect anyone in any climate. The signs of seasonal depression include persistent depressive moods, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and despair. If you are experiencing symptoms of seasonal depression, consult a medical professional.

Learn more about Healthy Mind here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Seasonal Affective Disorder
Accessed November 5, 2020

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
Accessed November 5, 2020

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Accessed November 5, 2020

Seasonal Depression
Accessed November 5, 2020

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Accessed November 5, 2020

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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated Nov 26, 2020
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel