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Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Christopher Fischer, M.D.

With the changes of the season, we start to notice the changes in the colors of the leaves and the nights getting longer and days getting shorter. As a psychiatrist I am also keenly aware of the effects that the changes in the season can have on my patients’ moods. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that typically starts in the fall, deepens in the winter months and generally resolves in the spring/early summertime. A smaller subset of people with SAD, experience depressive symptoms during the summer that resolve during the winter months. Individuals with SAD may experience lower energy, sadness, low interest in activities (anhedonia), trouble with sleep (both falling and staying asleep as well as sleeping too much), changes in appetite, difficulty with concentration, and may also get thoughts that life is not worth living. It is important to recognize the symptoms of SAD as they are treatable but first must be recognized. There are some risk factors for SAD, which include a family history, living far from the equator, and low levels of vitamin D.

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