Seasonal depression around the holidays, the drastic changes in seasons from summer to fall to winter are usually a welcomed transition for most people. Many people love the changing of the sky, the different colored leaves on the trees and the colder temperatures as they signify change and new beginnings however for many with seasonal depression, the change from summer to cold winter months can be triggering for further depressive symptoms resulting in 15 million individuals diagnosed with seasonal depression.

The grey skies and cold winter months can bring a somber mood to those who are diagnosed with the “winter blues”, formally known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This disorder starts to become apparent in the fall, pique in the winter and resolve in the springtime and is more apparent for individual living in the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast where grey skies are prominent 4-6 months out of the year. This disorder was first described in 1984 by Rosenthal as a “syndrome characterized by recurrent depressions that occur annually at the same time each year.”  Seasonal affective disorder is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a separate condition. Instead it is listed as a specifier “with seasonal pattern” under Major Depressive Disorder, recurrent and the Bipolar Disorders. This mood disorder, like depression and bipolar disorder can greatly affect an individual’s way of life, potentially causing havoc in relationships, work life, at home and in society. SAD is usually more common in the fall and winter (Winter SAD), though it may occur during the spring and summer (Spring SAD). Winter-onset SAD is more common and is often characterized by atypical depressive symptoms including; hypersomnia, increased appetite, and craving for carbohydrates. On the other hand, spring/summer also seen and is more frequently associated with typical depressive symptoms including insomnia and loss of appetite.

Diagnostic criteria for SAD

Seasonal depression around the holidays, In order for an individual to be diagnosed with SAD, they must present with depressive symptoms that are more prominent during a specific season with a full remission throughout the rest of the year. These episodes during a specific season must be present for two consecutive years in a row and seasonal episodes should exponentially outnumber non-seasonal episodes.

SAD and the relation to co-occurring eating disorders

Studies show that 60-90 percent of individuals diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder are women in their early 20’s, the same demographic that is primarily diagnosed with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and bulimia nervosa. Although there is no direct link between eating disorder and SAD per say, there are a lot of similarities between the populations affected by each disorder. Eating disorders are often triggered by mental health disorders such as depression and eating disorder treatment centers usually see the highest increase in admissions during the winter months and many treatment centers hold their therapy activities outside in order to have the highest amount of sunlight exposure as possible. The stress of the holidays, gloomy skies, lower levels of serotonin and vitamin D during the winter months are known triggers for seasonal affective disorder and also can increase the risk of eating disorders.

Treatment for seasonal depression

There is no one size fits all for seasonal depression. Like eating disorder treatment, seasonal affective depression treatment consists of many treatment modalities including pharmacotherapy such as SSRIs, light therapy and psychotherapy including cognitive behavioral therapy. Studies have shown that light therapy can alleviate symptoms associate with SAD by approximately 50-80 percent with even higher results if tailored to an individual’s sleep wake cycle.


We’re Here for You

If you are struggling or someone you know is struggling, we are here for you. Center for Discovery’s Treatment Centers specialize in treatment for eating disorders, mental health and dual diagnosis treatment with unique treatment programs for every individual to get them on their way to eating disorder recovery.

For more information, resources, or to consult with one of our specialists, call 888.891.9244.


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