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Treating & Preventing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

  • Published: 2014-11-23 (Revised/Updated 2015-12-22) : Author: Northwestern Medicine : Contact:
  • Synopsis: Lack of sunlight during winter months can cause subtype of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), where episodes of depression occur during the same time every year.

The holiday season is often associated with family gatherings and cheerful spirits, but that's not the case for everyone.

For some, the lack of sunlight during winter months can actually cause a subtype of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), where episodes of depression regularly occur during the same time every year.

Symptoms start in late fall and often last until early spring.

SAD may affect up to nine percent of Americans depending on latitude, although women may be at higher risk for developing SAD during their reproductive years.

The exact cause of SAD is unknown, but experts believe changes in melatonin and serotonin levels or a disruption in the body's internal clock could be to blame, said Northwestern Medicine psychiatrist Pedro Dago, MD.

"If you're experiencing significant functional impairment associated with the changes in season, it's time to get some help," says Dago, who is also an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "Understand that SAD is not just a case of the winter blues, but a serious problem for many people and that it can be treated. Talk to your doctor if you are suffering from symptoms so you, too, can enjoy this holiday season."

Those who suffer from SAD have the following symptoms:

Traditional treatments for SAD include psychotherapy, medication and therapeutic light therapy but Dago recommends first talking to your doctor to determine appropriate therapies and treatment. He also suggests the following tips:

For more information about SAD or to make an appointment, visit or call 312-926-0779

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