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Seasonal Depression Disorder- Symptoms and Causes

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Written By Julian Carter
Woman by window suffering from seasonal depression

It is fairly common to feel low or sad during gloomy or dark weather. But when such behavioural patterns repeat in specific time frames, it can be more than just “winter blues.”

Mental health can be influenced by the surrounding environment, and when seasons change, one might experience certain changes in the mood as well.

What is Seasonal Depression Disorder?

Seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder(SAD) is medically defined as a type of depressive mood disorder that occurs every year. In other words, it is characterized as a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons.

Most people start experiencing SAD symptoms in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping the energy and increasing the moodiness. Some people can experience it the other way around.

Experiencing some mild symptoms of seasonal depression disorder in the winter months is common. But when it progresses and starts affecting daily life activities, consulting a mental health professional is necessary. Researchers found that around 11 million people living in the United States are affected by seasonal depression disorder, and 25 million might show milder symptoms. Possible causes of seasonal depression include less exposure to sunlight during winters or a significant drop in the serotonin levels in the brain. Taking the necessary medical treatment in terms of medication and therapy can help treat SAD.

What Are the Symptoms of Seasonal Depression Disorder?

Seasonal depression disorder symptoms may vary among patients, depending upon the season in which it occurs. SAD is diagnosed as a type of depression, so the symptoms are similar to depression only. Some of the most common symptoms of seasonal depression disorder are as follows.

  • Losing interest in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Feeling fatigued or tired throughout the day
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty in concentration
  • Increased irritability.
  • Rapid weight gain or loss
  • Experiencing difficulty in sleeping
  • Experiencing suicidal thoughts
  • Change in appetite
  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Reduced sexual interest
  • Lack of interest in social activities
  • Increased desire to be isolated
  • Episodes of violent behavior
  • Experiencing carbohydrate cravings
  • Low testosterone level in men

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Experiencing such symptoms can significantly lower the quality of life of an individual. A mental health expert would diagnose the signs to know the exact cause of seasonal depression disorder. A proper treatment plan would be made that would involve medication, therapy, counseling, and support group sessions. It is imperative to have emotional support or close family members and friends in dealing with mental health disorders like SAD.

What Is the Main Cause of Seasonal Depression Disorder?

Researchers don’t know yet what exactly leads to a seasonal depression disorder. There are a number of biological and environmental factors that play a role. Many believe that it is the chemical hormone (serotonin) that imbalances and triggers the relative symptoms. One theory suggests that not getting the right amount of sunlight during the winter season plays a role as well. For example, SAD is more common in Canada and Alaska than in sunnier Florida.

However, knowing seasonal depression causes can help prevent difficulties that arise out of relationships, work, and other life aspects. Some of the main causes of seasonal depression disorder are as follows:

Biological Clock:

We all have a biological clock (circadian rhythm) that helps in regulating mood, sleep, and the production of hormones. During the winter months, not getting enough sunlight, may make one experience disruption in the body’s internal clock and may develop symptoms of seasonal depression disorder. Researchers found that people who experience more significant disruption in the circadian rhythms were more likely to develop mental health complications like seasonal depression disorder or bipolar disorder.

Hormonal changes:

Neurotransmitters in the brain like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are the chemical messengers that help form communication between nerves. A hormone, such as serotonin helps in boosting the mood and helps the person feel calm, focused, and happy. Exposure to sunlight is considered to increase the brain’s release of serotonin; when one becomes less exposed to sunlight, serotonin levels might start to dip. The risk of experiencing seasonal depression disorder increases due to the less serotonin activity in the brain.

Also Read: Depression and Anxiety- How To Cope With The Condition

Deficiency of Vitamin D:

Vitamin D also plays a role in the inadequate production of the serotonin hormone in the brain. It is a known fact that we get vitamin D from sunlight as well; less exposure to sunlight during the winter months can cause vitamin D deficiency and affect the serotonin level in the brain. Researchers from the University of Georgia estimate that people with low vitamin D levels are at an increased risk for the seasonal affective disorder(SAD). Low vitamin D levels could also be a driving factor of seasonal depression disorder that occurs during the winter months.

Melatonin levels:

Melatonin is a hormone in our body that plays a crucial role in our sleep patterns. Seasonal changes can cause some disruption in melatonin production in the body and may lead to symptoms of seasonal depression disorder. A research study was done in 2006 estimated that melatonin is essential and plays a role in reducing the symptoms of seasonal depression disorder.

Negative thought process:

People who often overthink and have stress and anxiety issues are more prone to experience seasonal depression disorder. One can think of taking cognitive behavioral therapy in order to improve upon negative thinking patterns.


Though there is no known permanent cure available for seasonal depression disorder, medical experts have found a number of treatment options to make it more manageable. Taking medication like antidepressants, getting psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy done can prove to be extremely beneficial in treating seasonal depression disorder. One can even think of joining a support group to get a wider perspective from peers about how to manage the disorder. It is crucial to have the constant support of family members and close friends in dealing with any type of mental health disorder.

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