What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Some people find that their moods shift with the seasons. The most common pattern is a depressed mood in the fall or winter (as the days get shorter) and an improvement in mood in the spring (with the return of longer days and more daylight). However, a few people have the opposite pattern — they get depressed in the summer.
Some researchers think there may be a connection between seasonal affective disorder and bipolar illness because bipolar patients often have a seasonal pattern to their depression, and because many people with seasonal affective disorder turn out to have bipolar disorder. People with bipolar disorder sometimes have manic or hypomanic episodes in a seasonal pattern, too, with episodes occurring more frequently in summer (when there is more daylight).
The winter doldrums are not rare, especially in areas of the country where the winters are cold and long. As expected, this disorder is more common among people living in northern states than in southern states. Throughout the world, it is more common the further you get from the equator. It is also more common in women than in men.
To diagnose seasonal affective disorder, your health-care provider will look for the following:
- Depressed mood that starts and ends at specific times of the year — usually beginning in the fall or winter and ending by spring
- Depressive episodes that are not tied to specific seasonal events, such as the start of school, winter holidays or summer vacation
- Depression that recurs for at least two seasonal cycles (two years). Seasonal episodes may occur as part of major depressive disorder or — or — if you have had periods of mania — as part of bipolar disorder. (People with bipolar disorder may have manic episodes in a seasonal pattern too, usually in the summer time.)
- There are more seasonal episodes (of depression) than nonseasonal ones.
The most common symptoms in seasonal depression are a lack of energy, increased sleeping and eating, and gaining weight. These symptoms are the opposite of the more common symptoms of depression, which are sleeping less, poor appetite and weight loss.
The treatment of seasonal affective disorder is frequently the same as the treatment of other types of depression. Standard treatments such as antidepressants and psychotherapy are appropriate and often recommended. In addition, light therapy has been found effective for seasonal depression.