Are You Feeling SAD?

Do you dread turning your clocks back and “losing” an hour of daylight? Do you get the “winter blahs?” Your fall- and winter-related depression may not be just in your head. It could mean that you have seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

About 6 percent of Americans suffer from winter SAD, while another 10 percent or 20 percent have mild SAD symptoms, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Pilot studies suggest that up to 5.5 percent of children between ages 9 and 19 may also suffer from SAD, the academy reports.

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According to the National Mental Health Association (NMHA), you may have SAD if:

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You experience symptoms of depression (such as lethargy, sleep and appetite disturbances, and “low” mood) regularly during fall and winter. Children may be more irritable than usual.

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Symptoms occur at least two years in a row.

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The depression disappears during spring and summer.

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Scientists believe that SAD may be related to the decreased amount of light during the winter months. Our circadian rhythms (internal biological clocks) are disrupted by days growing shorter. With less sunlight, people with SAD may feel more depressed. In fact, the most difficult period for many sufferers is during January and February, when days are shortest.

You may be more likely to experience SAD if:

You live in the northern part of the country, where there is less daylight during winter.

You are a woman. The Winter Depression Program at Yale University notes that up to four times more women suffer from SAD than men. The NMHA says children are also at a higher risk for SAD.

• Your relatives have SAD. The condition appears to run in families.


What Can You Do?

If you or a family member suffer from SAD, try these tips from mental health experts:

Light therapy – Use a “light box,” which delivers intense light from fluorescent bulbs; or full-spectrum light bulbs, which are designed to shine in the entire spectrum of light, just like sunlight. Both treatments aim to “replace” sunlight that the winter months lack. Instructions and results vary by product, so consult your doctor for advice.

Getting out Some studies have shown that an hour of aerobic exercise during daylight has an energizing effect similar to that of light therapy.

Medication – If your SAD is severe, talk to a mental health professional. He or
she may recommend an antidepressant.

To learn more about SAD, check the National Mental Health Association’s Web site at

More about depression:

  • Recognizing Childhood Depression

  • Understanding and Overcoming Postpartum Depression 

  • Bipolar Disorder in Children: Neglected Health Problem or Trendy Diagnosis?

  • Depression Hits Teens Girls Hard   

    Elizabeth A. Allen

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