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Shining a Light on Seasonal Affective Disorder

BLOG - all about SAD

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is more than just the winter blues or a fleeting feeling of sadness; it’s a recurrent depressive disorder closely tied to seasonal changes. At Atlantic Behavioral Health in Wilmington, Massachusetts, we understand the profound impact SAD can have, especially during the challenging winter months. Through this blog, we aim to deepen your understanding of SAD, highlight how to recognize its symptoms, and guide you on when to seek professional mental health treatment.

Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD):

Seasonal Affective Disorder, a subtype of major depression, manifests as episodes of depression that recur at a particular time of year, typically during the colder months. The most common form is winter SAD, where individuals experience depressive symptoms during autumn or early winter, with symptoms subsiding or converting to hypomania by the following spring​​.1 Symptoms can range from feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of energy, to changes in sleeping patterns, appetite alterations, difficulty concentrating, and a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.

Recognizing SAD in Yourself and Others:

Identifying SAD is crucial in addressing it effectively. Key signs include a noticeable shift in mood and behavior that aligns with seasonal changes, particularly as days shorten. Unlike typical mood fluctuations, SAD can significantly impair one’s ability to function daily. It’s essential to differentiate SAD from other forms of depression or mood disorders, as its seasonal nature is a defining characteristic.

Patients’ Perspectives on SAD and its Effects:

Individual experiences with SAD vary significantly. Some individuals with SAD may enjoy symptom-free summers, while others dread the approaching winter, anticipating the return of depressive symptoms. This fear can cast a shadow over their summer months, affecting their overall well-being even when they are not experiencing depressive symptoms​​. 2

Preventive Measures and Lifestyle Changes:

Preventing SAD involves proactive measures and lifestyle adjustments. Staying active, especially outdoors, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and engaging in a strong social support network are crucial. The effectiveness of these preventive measures can be influenced by factors such as individual knowledge about the disorder, previous treatment experiences, personal willingness to manage one’s health, and the supportiveness of one’s social and work environments​​. 3

Treatment Options for SAD:

Bright Light Therapy (BLT) has been a cornerstone in treating SAD for over three decades. A comprehensive meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials indicates that BLT is significantly more effective than placebo treatments in reducing depression scores in SAD patients​​. 4  Other treatment options include the use of second-generation antidepressants, cognitive behavioral therapy, and lifestyle modifications tailored to the individual’s needs.

all about Seasonal Affective Disorder

When to Seek Professional Mental Health Treatment:

Identifying the right time to seek professional help is crucial. If you or someone you know experiences persistent low mood, lack of interest in most activities, or any other symptom that significantly impacts daily life, it’s time to consult a mental health professional. At Atlantic Behavioral Health, our team of experts is ready to provide comprehensive, personalized care plans for individuals struggling with SAD.


Recognizing and treating SAD is essential for maintaining overall mental health and well-being. At Atlantic Behavioral Health, we are dedicated to supporting those affected by SAD. We offer a range of educational resources, preventive strategies, and treatment options tailored to our community’s needs. If you or someone you know is struggling with SAD symptoms, we encourage you to reach out for support and assistance.

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FAQ on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

  1. What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at a specific time of year, usually in the fall or winter. It is characterized by recurrent episodes of depression, often with increased sleep, appetite changes, and low energy.

  2. How can I tell if I have SAD or just the ‘winter blues’? While the ‘winter blues’ may involve feeling a bit down during the colder months, SAD is more serious and affects your daily life. Symptoms of SAD are similar to those of major depression, including persistent low mood, loss of interest in activities, changes in sleep and appetite, and difficulty concentrating. If these symptoms recur regularly each year in a seasonal pattern, it could be SAD.

  3. What are the most effective treatments for SAD? Bright Light Therapy (BLT) is one of the most effective treatments for SAD. It involves exposure to a light box that emits a bright light mimicking natural outdoor light, typically used for 20-30 minutes each day. Other treatments include certain types of antidepressants, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) tailored for SAD, and lifestyle changes such as increasing natural light exposure, exercise, and maintaining a regular schedule.

  4. When should someone with SAD seek professional help? If SAD symptoms are significantly impacting your life – such as causing problems at work, school, or in relationships – it’s important to seek professional help. This is especially true if you notice changes in your sleep, appetite, energy, or mood that aren’t typical for you, or if you have thoughts of harming yourself.

  5. Can SAD occur during the summer? Yes, although less common, there is a summer variant of SAD. Unlike winter SAD, summer SAD may involve symptoms like insomnia, decreased appetite, weight loss, and anxiety. The specific causes of summer SAD are less understood, but longer daylight hours and heat may play roles.


1 “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, Cambridge Core.

 2, 3. “Implementing prevention of seasonal affective disorder from patients’ and physicians’ perspectives – a qualitative study,” BMC Psychiatry, 2018.

4.  “The Efficacy of Light Therapy in the Treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials,” PubMed.

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