In the Fall, as the temperatures drop (in most regions of the country) and the days begin to get shorter leading into the winter months, possible depression symptoms can arise. The cold, dark winter days can be a common cause of a form of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. 


SAD can affect anyone, but populations that are at higher risk for SAD are female, live in higher latitudes, and have a family history of depression, bipolar or SAD. The onset of SAD occurs most often between the ages of 18‐30.1 Symptoms of SAD are more than just the “Winter Blues,” and they often get worse as the season progresses. After the Winter solstice the days are slowly beginning to get longer, but if you are SAD sufferer this time of year can be difficult. Much like clinical depression, SAD symptoms include:  

  • low energy 
  • losing interest in enjoyable activities 
  • sadness 
  • irritability 
  • difficulty sleeping  
  • change in appetite 
  • feeling sluggish 
  • difficulty concentrating  
  • feeling hopeless 
  • thoughts of suicide 

Although less common, typical symptoms of Summer seasonal disorder are agitation, insomnia, loss of appetite, anxiety, restlessness and sometimes violence. There is a subsyndromal category of SAD, S‐SAD that does describe the “Winter Blues”.

Why does this happen?  

It appears that people with SAD have difficulty regulating the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for mood. A protein called SERT is responsible for maintaining serotonin levels. In the Winter months SERT levels naturally stay low, as the days become darker, SERT levels appear to increase in persons with SAD, which reduces serotonin activity. Melatonin is a hormone that may also be a contributor to SAD. This hormone helps regulate sleep. Darkness increases the body’s levels of melatonin, which then increases the body’s response to become sleepy and lethargic. The combination of increased Melatonin and decreased serotonin impacts circadian rhythms, making it more difficult for our bodies to adjust to the seasons.  

There is good news!  

Seasonal Affective Disorder can be treated! SAD can be treat‐ ed with phototherapy (light therapy), psychotherapy and medication, but don’t forget that nutrition (vitamin D, magnesium, same) and exercise have a powerful effect on your hormone and neurotransmiƩer levels too. Proper nutrition can help you maintain your vitamin levels, but supplementing is also an option. It has also been shown that exercise, especially exercising to fatigue can help increase the rate of serotonin synthesis, combating SAD.