Five Ways that Seasonal Affective Disorder Is Different from Depression

Five Ways that Seasonal Affective Disorder Is Different from Depression

People living in the northern states, where winter is colder and darker, are much more likely to experience SAD

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a condition in which a person experiences severe negative mood changes during different seasons. Although most commonly associated with an onset of depression in the winter months, some people experience manic symptoms (anxiety, restlessness, irritability, aggression or sleeplessness) in the summer months. Changes in light, eating, working, socialization and other activities can cause some individuals to experience the following symptoms of major depressive disorder:

  • Persistent melancholy
  • Increased appetite and caloric intake
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Apathy
  • Loneliness
  • Decreased sex drive

In the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals IV and V, SAD is re-categorized as a specifier of a certain type of major depressive disorder instead of a unique condition. Thus SAD is a type of depression, but not exactly the same thing. An individual suffering from SAD will likely exhibit symptoms of depression, but effective treatment will often involve unique elements that will not necessarily be effective for people suffering from general depression.

Five ways that SAD is different from general depression:

  1. SAD is directly caused by seasonal changes related to daylight hours, temperatures and seasonal changes to behavior. This does not include the normal decrease in energy associated with darker months. It is also not simply about having a case of the blues.
  2. Treatment for SAD is often quite different than treatment for depression. Light therapy, for instance, can be a very useful treatment for individuals suffering from SAD but will have no effect on a person suffering from a generalized depressive disorder.
  3. SAD can be connected to major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder. It may be possible for an individual to exhibit manic symptoms during summer months and depressive symptoms during winter months by coincidence. If a person experiences both manic and depressive symptoms in the winter, she may not be experiencing SAD at all.
  4. The prevalence of SAD varies depending on geographic location. While the occurrence of major depressive disorder is dispersed evenly across the US, individuals living in the northern states, where winter is colder and darker, are much more likely to experience SAD than people living in Florida or South Texas.
  5. In order for a depressive episode to be diagnosed as SAD there are four criteria that must be met:
    • The depressive episodes must begin at a particular time of the year
    • Symptoms must go into remissions at a characteristic time of year
    • These seasonal symptoms must have occurred for at least 2 years with no symptoms of depression occurring outside of the given season
    • Seasonal symptoms must outnumber any other depressive symptoms from throughout a person’s lifetime

Treating SAD Effectively

If left untreated SAD can lead to serious mental and physiological consequences, including addiction, isolation and even suicide. Great advances in the treatment of SAD have been made in recent years but the first step is to accurately diagnose it along with any other co-occurring disorders that may be contributing to your symptoms. Once it is established that you are suffering from SAD a combination of counseling, coping skill development, light therapy and possible medical treatment can be highly effective. It is critical, however, that you enlist the services of mental health professionals with a specialized understanding of the unique aspects of SAD.

24-Hour Seasonal Affective Disorder Helpline

Our toll-free SAD helpline is open 24 hours a day and our staff members are ready to help you learn more about SAD or find the best possible treatment right away. Call now.