Seasonal Affective Disorder

Story by Jim Zang

Winter 2022/23

Feel like it’s been winter forever? Tired of being couped-up inside?

You’re not alone.

February is a difficult month for many people in northern latitudes. According to WebMD, more than 11 million people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and many have a less severe case of the winter blues, officially called subsyndromal SAD.

Low mood and energy levels are the main symptoms of SAD. People may feel irritable, have a hard time concentrating, and cry easily. They are tired and are less active than usual. They also sleep more, withdraw from social situations, crave carbohydrates, and gain weight. Sound familiar?

People with full-on SAD can be completely incapacitated with depression, even to the point of having suicidal thoughts. Those afflicted with the winter blues have milder symptoms.

The exact cause of SAD isn’t known, but sunlight is definitely a factor. Biochemically, The National Institute of Mental Health names three issues associated with SAD: Difficulty with regulating serotonin, a key brain chemical involved in mood; overproduction of melatonin, which regulates sleep; and underproduction of Vitamin D.

Counseling, medication for serotonin regulation (SSRIs or other anti-depressants), Vitamin D supplementation, and light therapy are the most recommended treatments for SAD.