Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

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What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly known as SAD, is a type of depression that is related to the change of seasons. SAD is more than just feeling the “winter blues” and can impact your quality of life. Knowing the symptoms of SAD can help you find the support you need.

Why Does This Happen?

The cause of SAD is still largely unknown, but it is believed that it occurs due to the changes in the body’s internal clock, and changes in the body and brain chemicals. Most cases of SAD begin during late fall or early winter and fade during the sunnier days in spring or summer. While it is much less common, SAD symptoms are also reported in spring and summer.

What are Some of the Symptoms?

SAD is not considered a separate disorder, but a type of depression characterized by its recurrent seasonal pattern, with symptoms lasting about four to five months per year. Therefore, SAD shares similar symptoms to depression. There are also some specific symptoms that differ for winter and summer SAD. In either case, the symptoms listed below may start our mild and become severe as the season progresses. Not every person with SAD will experience all the symptoms listed below.

Our clinical team recommends you stay aware of when and how often you may experience any of the following signs:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism   
  • Irritability, restlessness, or having trouble sitting still
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities  
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Eating more or less than usual, usually with unplanned weight gain or loss
  • Difficulty sleeping, early morning-awakening or oversleeping
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or do not ease even without treatment

What Can You Do?

Fortunately, there are a variety of treatment options for SAD, and you don’t have to wait for the spring or summer months to start to feel better overall. Treatment for SAD may include a combination of light therapy, medications, and psychotherapy.

For some people, increased exposure to sunlight can help improve symptoms of SAD. Keeping your house well lit, spending time outside and arranging your office or home to be closer to light may help. Taking care of your overall health and wellbeing can also be beneficial – exercise regularly, eating a well-balanced diet, proper sleep and engaging with community through volunteering or physical activities are important to incorporate. With the right treatment, SAD can be a manageable condition.


Mental Health Center of Denver: To schedule a first-time appointment for yourself or your child, contact our Access Center at 303.504.7900 or

Colorado Crisis Services: If you are in crisis or need help dealing with one, call 844.493.8255, text TALK to 38255 or visit a walk-in Center.