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Seasonal Affective Disorder: 7 Signs to Look For

Leaving this untreated can lead to more chronic conditions.

Dreary, gray skies and frigid temps can make anyone feel a bit lethargic, but seasonal affective disorder goes beyond having the winter blues or blahs. Seasonal affective disorder is a depressive episode that is triggered by seasonal changes, typically the colder months of fall and winter. (It is less common, but possible, to have seasonal affective disorder in the transition from spring to summer.) The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder during winter months are the same as a regular episode of depression, including:

  • Not enjoying activities you previously did

  • Lack of energy

  • Withdrawal and isolation

  • Overeating

  • Gaining weight unintentionally

  • Craving carbohydrates

  • Feeling disengaged from surroundings

Signs of seasonal affective disorder in the spring/summer may differ slightly and include symptoms like poor appetite, weight loss, insomnia, and restlessness.

For a seasonal affective disorder diagnosis, these symptoms need to be present for weeks or even months, not just a few days. The other requirement is that the depressive episode must occur for at least two years during the specific season.

You may not consider finding treatment for seasonal affective disorder since you know winter is only temporary, but this is a mistake: “The fact of the matter is that it does last,” says psychologist Jennifer Hartstein, PsyD, a psychologist based in New York City. “It can be pervasive and it can lead to more chronic depressive disorders.”

Seasonal affective disorder is typically treated with one of the following methods:

  • Antidepressant medications

  • Psychotherapy

  • Light therapy

Learn more information about types of psychotherapy and types of antidepressants.

Jennifer L. Hartstein, PsyD

This video features information from Jennifer L. Hartstein, PsyD. Dr. Hartstein is the owner of Hartstein Psychological Services, a group psychotherapy practice in New York City.

Ben Michaelis, PhD

This video features information from Ben Michaelis, PhD. Dr. Michaelis is a clinical and media psychologist in New York City.

Khadijah Watkins, MD

This video features information from Khadijah Watkins, MD. Dr. Watkins is an assistant professor of psychiatry in the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine and an assistant attending psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

Duration: 2:18. Last Updated On: Jan. 25, 2018, 3:15 a.m.
Reviewed by: Preeti Parikh, MD, . Review date: Dec. 21, 2017
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