Oct. 31, 2022 -- For some people, depression appears only in the winter months when the days are shorter. A new analysis predicts that this type of depression, known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), will peak the first week of November.

“Knowing when to expect the onset of seasonal depression can help [individuals] create a treatment plan with or without the help of a professional,” said Emily Simonian, a licensed marriage and family therapist at the counseling service Thriveworks, which conducted the analysis, in a statement. “For example, if you work with a psychiatrist or would like to start, planning for medication treatment and knowing the amount of time it takes for certain prescriptions to begin working effectively will help. Getting ahead of seasonal depression by practicing coping skills, starting projects, or planning a trip can help, too.”

According to the American Psychological Association, SAD is “more than just the winter blues.” 

SAD and depression share the same symptoms, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Sad mood
  • Loss of interest
  • Difficulty sleeping or excessive sleeping
  • Weight gain and craving more starches and sweets
  • Feelings of hopelessness or despair
  • Thoughts of suicide

The symptoms can vary in severity for different people, but one hallmark is that they will usually interfere with relationships, and sometimes symptoms can be disabling.

Despite sharing symptoms, SAD is different from other types of depression. The main difference is that SAD “lasts for a season, typically the winter months, and goes away during the rest of the year,” according to the APA. “If your winter blues are severe and have gone on for at least two winters, you might have a case of SAD.”

Thriveworks, which predicts seasonal depression will peak around Nov. 6, also noted in its analysis that online searches for the term “seasonal depression” are trending toward a 30% increase compared to last year. The authors based their peak season prediction on an analysis of Google Trends data for the search term “seasonal depression” and analyzed that data for the past 4 years to create a predictive model.

The authors also analyzed the search term data by metropolitan area and found the highest search activity in the Northeastern United States. They listed the 15 cities in the U.S. with the highest search interest for the term “seasonal depression,” with Holyoke, MA, and Cedar Rapids, MI, topping the list. When they added weather data to their analysis, the authors concluded, “the average change in monthly temperature drops by more than 10 degrees for these cities with the highest search interest.”

Up to 3% of the general population have SAD, which has a complex set of causes including lack of sunlight and disrupted daily (circadian) rhythm, according to the National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine

Anyone who would like emotional support, anyone worried about a friend or loved one, or anyone thinking about suicide can call or text the national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. Online chat can be accessed at 988lifeline.org/chat. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Psychological Association: “Seasonal affective disorder: More than the winter blues.”

Thriveworks: “Thriveworks research finds seasonal depression will peak the first week of November.”

National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine: “Seasonal affective disorder.”

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