Seasonal affective disorder: could you spot the signs?

Winter is well and truly upon us. For many regions, this means miserable weather, less sunlight and darker days. Although we would much prefer our days to be filled with warmth and sunshine, many of us adapt to
seasonal changes. But for others, the change in seasons may trigger a form of depression.

First described in 1984 by Dr. Norman Rosenthal from the US, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal adjustment disorder, is a form of depression that can occur at certain times of the year.

Mind, a UK organization that provides advice and support to individuals with mental health problems, notes that the majority of people with SAD experience the condition during winter months. Some people can be affected in reverse and experience depression during the summer months, but this is very rare.

According to Beth Murphy, head of information at Mind, the condition is often undiagnosed, making it difficult to know how many people suffer from the disorder. People with symptoms of SAD often experience 2 or 3 years of the condition before they are diagnosed.

However, Murphy says estimates show that around 10% of the population in Northern Europe experience milder symptoms of the condition, while 2% experience more severe symptoms.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, approximately 500,000 people in the US suffer from SAD, and around 10-20% of the US population suffer from milder forms of the disorders.

But regardless of the number of people worldwide who suffer from SAD, experts say that doctors appear to have lack of awareness of the condition.

Helen Hanson, chair of the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association (SADA) in the UK and a sufferer of SAD, told Medical News Today:
“I would say that we are still finding that the medical profession don’t seem to have sufficient awareness of the illness and particularly of its complexity. A pattern of presentation with depression needs to be noticed before a diagnosis can be made and general practitioners who do not have SAD on their agenda can still miss it completely.”

So what are the signs of SAD to look out for?

I think the thing that gets me down the most in winter is the holidays ending and the fact I don’t see most of my family for months to come. Fall is an exciting time of the year and things really go downhill after New Year’s. I do get excited about snow but otherwise tend to get depressed from January through March. I do however appreciate it when we get a warm day and there are no bugs around in winter.

I may have SAD on top of my regular bipolar depression - my pdoc suggested I use a light box, and I have been using it for up to an hour a day, but its not really helping my depression so much.

Maybe I dont have as much SAD symptoms as I once thought.

What I saw in the trenches was a strong correlation between SAD and learned helplessness (see So much so that when one was treated for LH, the SAD tended to go away. The following psychotherapies are all very effective for LH:

Learned Optimism
Standard CBT –
10 StEP (in the fifth or relapse prevent phase of treatment) –

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That’s interesting. The correlation makes perfect sense.