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Mental Health: Depression

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal depression, called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a depression that occurs each year at the same time, usually starting in fall or winter and ending in spring or early summer. It is more than just "the winter blues" or "cabin fever." A rare form of SAD known as "summer depression," begins in late spring or early summer and ends in fall.

What Are the Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

People who suffer from SAD have many of the common signs of depression: Sadness, irritability, loss of interest in their usual activities, withdrawal from social activities, and inability to concentrate. But symptoms of winter SAD may differ from symptoms of summer SAD.

Symptoms of winter SAD may include the seasonal occurrence of:

  • Fatigue
  • Increased need for sleep
  • Decreased levels of energy
  • Weight gain
  • Increase in appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased desire to be alone

Symptoms of summer SAD include the seasonal occurrence of:

  • Weight loss
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Decreased appetite

 

What Causes Depression?

There is not just one cause of depression. It is a complex disease that can occur as a result of a multitude of different factors, including biology and emotional and environmental factors. For people biologically vulnerable to depression, it may sometimes start with a significant life event, such as the loss of a loved one or a change in one's life or after being diagnosed with a serious disease. For others, depression may just occur for no apparent "reason."  In fact, there does not need to be any apparent "reason" for the symptoms of depression to occur in people who are vulnerable to the illness.

How Is Depression Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of depression often begins with a physical exam by a health care provider. Although there are no laboratory tests to specifically diagnose depression, the health care provider may use various tests to look for physical illness as the cause of the symptoms. If a physical cause for the depression is ruled out, your health care provider may begin treatment with a medicine for depression, or may refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist for evaluation.

Diagnosis is based on the intensity and duration of symptoms -- including any problems with functioning caused by the symptoms. 

How Is Depression Treated?

The most common treatment for depression includes the combination of antidepressant medicine, including selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and tricyclic antidepressants, and psychotherapy (talk therapy). Sometimes a combination of medicines are used to treat depression. 

Sometimes, atypical antipsychotic medicines or other drugs (such as lithium or other mood stabilizers) may be used in combination with antidepressants, when antidepressants alone are not fully effective at treating depression. 

Electroconvulsive therapy, also called ECT, may be used when highly severe depression is disabling and unresponsive to other forms of therapy. 

 

WebMD Medical Reference

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