Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a unique type of depression that’s related to changes in the seasons. It typically begins and ends around the same times each year, with symptoms becoming more severe as the season progresses. This mental health condition affects an estimated 6 % of the U.S. population. In severe cases, it can be linked to suicidal thoughts — making it essential to recognize the warning signs. Here’s what you need to know.

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Signs, Symptoms, & Causes

Most people with SAD experience symptoms in early fall and throughout the winter — although some people are affected in spring or summer. Signs and symptoms of SAD include losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, having low energy, experiencing changes in your weight or appetite, and feeling hopeless, lethargic, and moody. In addition, you may have trouble sleeping or have difficulty concentrating.

There is not one distinct cause of SAD. Various factors, from the reduced levels of sunlight experienced in winter to a drop in serotonin levels, are thought to play a role. People with a family history of SAD or depressive mental health disorders, as well as those living in areas with little sunlight, are thought to be at higher risk.

How to Improve Your Condition

If you are experiencing the above symptoms, you shouldn’t brush them off. SAD can hamper your happiness, resulting in social withdrawal, difficulties at work or school, and substance abuse. It can even lead to thoughts of death or suicide.

See a mental health specialist for a proper diagnosis. You don’t have to “power through” the seasonal blues — there are solutions available to help. Possible treatments include light therapy, medications, and regular counseling. Your therapist can help determine what treatment plan is best for you.