Understanding Seasonal Depression: Signs and Symptoms

Understanding Seasonal Depression: Signs and Symptoms

For some autumn lovers, fall is a cozy and fun time to look forward to. However others may dread this time due to an annual experience of despair or depression. This occurrence is not uncommon, in-fact there is a medical condition associated with this feeling called Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is experienced in a seasonal pattern. The condition is sometimes referred to as ‘winter blues’ because the depressive periods are most frequently experienced during the fall and winter, with recovery towards the spring and summer. However, in rare cases SAD may also take in affect during the summer months.

Classifying Seasonal Affective Disorder

Most people with SAD will experience symptoms starting September and feel better around April, lasting around 40% of the year. Common symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder are:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Irritability
  • Sluggish
  • Lack of motivation or pleasure in usual activities
  • Change in appetite or weight
  • Trouble sleeping and concentrating
  • Feeling like a different person than the season before

In seasonal depression, symptoms occur around the same time each year. Approaching a season and suddenly feeling low can seem confusing and frustrating to the individual, especially if there are no underlying reasons at that time to incite the depression.


Although the exact cause of seasonal depression remains undetermined, there are theories surrounding environmental and chemical changes that may trigger the depression:

  1. Vitamin D deficiency: It has been found that vitamin D activates serotonin in the brain-which stabilizes your mood and other systems in your body. As the amount of daylight reduces in the fall months, the level of vitamin D absorbed in the body also decreases. With low vitamin D and serotonin levels, mood is consequently affected.
  2. Melatonin boost: In response to darkness, your brain produces a hormone called Melatonin that helps with sleep. With the lack of prolonged sunlight, the body overproduces melatonin, causing some of the many lethargic SAD symptoms.
  3. Biological clock: When there you are less exposed to sunlight, your body’s biological clock (or circadian rhythm) shifts. This affects your hormone levels, digestive, and immune system, resulting in trouble regulating your mood and daily routine.

The disruption of melatonin and serotonin chemicals in response to a change in sunlight are thought to be the culprits when developing SAD. Other underlying factors such as inherited illnesses or disorders may also trigger the depression as well.

Seeking Help

Seasonal depression affects millions of North Americans every year, there are many resources to help manage SAD. If you recognize these recurring symptoms as something you or your loved ones experiences, see a professional or health provider to go through an evaluation and get a correct diagnosis to ensure there aren’t other physical issues causing these patterns. 

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