Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a common type of depression that affects many Canadians. People usually associate SAD with the “winter blues.” Especially in Northern regions like Canada, winters can be cold and dark. This seasonal change can cause people to feel depressed during these months, even if they don’t usually have depression the rest of the year.
SAD most often occurs in the winter. But SAD can happen with any seasonal change, and some people find themselves more depressed during the summer.
Luckily, like all types of depression, SAD can be treated. You can also monitor your mood as the seasons change to prevent depression symptoms from getting serious to begin with.
Why is this important?
- Seasonal affective disorder affects up to 10% of the population.
- While SAD is treatable, if it’s left untreated, it can have serious consequences like major depressive disorder.
- SAD typically affects people living in Northern latitudes, like Canadian residents. The further people live from the equator, the more likely they are to have SAD.
- 4 out of 5 people with SAD are women.
How to cope with seasonal depression:
- Monitor your symptoms as the seasons change, especially if you’ve experienced a depressive episode before. Some common symptoms of depression in the summer include a sad, irritable, or restless mood, fatigue, lack of appetite, and increased anxiety. Seasonal affective disorder in the winter may cause lethargy, a depressed mood, and a lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities
- If you notice yourself feeling depressed, talk to a professional about it. Your primary care physician and your therapist are good places to start. By getting the right diagnosis, you can start understanding what’s going on in your brain.
- For SAD that comes on in the winter, light therapy may be helpful. Light therapy uses lamps that mimic natural sunlight, and can relieve depression especially if your SAD is due to a lack of sunlight.
- Fix your circadian rhythm by practicing good sleep hygiene. We don’t yet know what, exactly, causes SAD. But changes in your circadian rhythm might play a role. Your circadian rhythm is the 24-hour biological clock that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, among other things. In Canada, both the winter and summer months could disrupt your circadian rhythm because of the excess or lack of sunlight during these times of year. By prioritizing restful sleep, you can keep your circadian rhythm ticking properly.
- Get out of the heat. Sometimes, being out in the hot sun could cause symptoms that mimic depression, like lethargy. Use air-conditioning or find other creative ways to keep cool.
- Physical exercise can be beneficial for relieving all types of depression, including SAD. Get healthy amounts of exercise if you’re feeling depressed. If the weather is too hot or cold to work out outside, consider joining a climate-controlled gym.
- Keep up routines. Sometimes, people become depressed during the summer months because of a change in their regular routines. For example, students may suddenly find themselves without a class structure or homework. Vacations could also disrupt routines. As much as possible, try to stick to the routines you keep throughout the year, like exercising and waking up at the same time.
- Get treatment for depression. Lastly, if your seasonal depression doesn’t go away, it may be necessary to receive mental health treatment. Certain types of psychotherapy (like cognitive-behavioral therapy) and antidepressant medication have been proven to be effective for decreasing symptoms of depression.
Drew, E., et. al (2021). Seasonal affective disorder and engagement in physical activities among adults in Alaska. International Journal of Circumpolar Health.
Melrose, S. (2015). Seasonal affective disorder: An overview of assessment and treatment approaches. Depression Research and Treatment.
Mental Health America. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved from: https://www.mhanational.org/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad