Seasonal affective disorder


Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a kind of depression that occurs at a certain time of the year, usually in the winter.


SAD may begin during the teen years or in adulthood. Like other forms of depression, it occurs more often in women than in men.

People who live in places with long winter nights are at greater risk for SAD. A less common form of the disorder involves depression during the summer months.


Symptoms usually build up slowly in the late autumn and winter months. Symptoms are usually the same as with other forms of depression:

SAD can sometimes become long-term depression. Bipolar disorder or thoughts of suicide are also possible.

Exams and Tests

There is no test for SAD. Your health care provider can make a diagnosis by asking about your history of symptoms.

The health care provider may also perform a physical exam and blood tests to rule out other disorders that are similar to SAD.


As with other types of depression, antidepressant medications and talk therapy can be effective.


To manage your symptoms at home:

Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs. These can make depression worse over time. They may also affect your judgment about suicide.

When you are struggling with depression, talk about how you're feeling to someone you trust. Try to be around people who are caring and positive. Volunteer or get involved in group activities.


Light therapy using a special lamp with a very bright light (10,000 lux) that mimics light from the sun may also be helpful.

Symptoms of depression should improve within 3 - 4 weeks if light therapy is going to help.

Side effects of light therapy include:

People who take drugs that make them more sensitive to light, such as certain psoriasis drugs, antibiotics, or antipsychotics, should avoid light therapy.

A check-up with your eye doctor is recommended before starting treatment.

With no treatment, symptoms usually get better on their own with the change of seasons. However, symptoms can improve more quickly with treatment.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outcome is usually good with treatment. However, some people have SAD throughout their lives.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Get help right away if you have thoughts of hurting yourself or anyone else.


American Psychiatric Asosciation. Practice guideline for the treatment of patients with major depressive disorder. 3rd ed. October 2010. 

Tesar GE. Psychiatry and psychology. In: Carey WD, ed. Cleveland Clinic: Current Clinical Medicine 2010. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:section 11.

Review Date: 2/11/2012
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington; and David B. Merrill, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Heath Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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