Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder and Its Impact on Mental Health

Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder and Its Impact on Mental Health

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs in relation to the changing seasons. The symptoms usually start in the fall and continue into the winter months, affecting mood and energy levels. Less commonly, SAD can also cause depression in the spring or early summer.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms 

SAD symptoms often include the following:

  • Feeling listless, sad, or down most of the day
  • Losing interest in activities
  • Experiencing low energy
  • Having problems with sleep
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Getting carbohydrate cravings, overeating, and experiencing weight gain

The disorder is diagnosed more often in women than in men and is more frequent among younger adults. The specific cause remains unknown, but factors like disrupted circadian rhythms, serotonin levels, and melatonin levels are thought to play a role. These can be more pronounced in people who live in northern climates, where it’s colder and darker in the winter.

How SAD Complicates Other Mental Health Challenges

SAD can have a compounding effect on other mental health conditions. For example, people who have major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder are at an increased risk of SAD, and the condition can worsen these. In addition, people who experience SAD are likelier to have other disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and eating, anxiety, or panic disorders.

If not addressed, SAD can lead to complications like social withdrawal, school or work problems, substance abuse, and additional mental health disorders. In severe cases, it can even lead to suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

What SAD Sufferers Can Do

If you suffer from SAD symptoms, it’s essential to consult a healthcare provider for a comprehensive treatment plan, especially if you have another mental health condition. While there’s no known way to prevent the development of SAD, early management of symptoms can prevent them from worsening over time.

How You Can Help Young People Affected by SAD

SAD can be especially difficult for vulnerable populations like pre-teens and teens — especially those struggling with other diagnosed mental health challenges — because they can be inexperienced at developing healthy coping strategies. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with SAD, encourage them to seek out a tailored treatment plan from an appropriate care provider. If you’re a parent or teen with insights on SAD from your own journey with it, you can help countless others by sharing your stories online. Consider posting reviews of mental health facilities and providers as well as the strategies you or your family has successfully used in approaching mental wellness. 

Help Teens Experiencing SAD With ReGroup Foundation

ReGroup Foundation is a non-profit that helps neurodiverse and neurotypical pre-teens, teens, and their families anonymously share and benefit from mental health success stories. Too often, the best resources and practices in teen mental health care remain under the radar. We want all families to benefit from the triumphs of those who have been there, done that. We make this possible by collecting family reviews of local mental health caregivers and facilities as well as personal strategies for helping teens recover from wellness challenges like SAD.

We’ve shared a few strategies for coping with SAD. Have you found any of your own that you’d like to share on our Strategies page? In only 15 minutes, you can begin making a world of difference in the lives of other teens impacted by SAD and their families — just by anonymously sharing your successes. Register today and start sharing your reviews and mental health insights!

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