Health Watch -- Seasonal Depression

Health Watch is a Public Service of the  Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Does the coming of winter send you down into the dumps?

The days are getting shorter, the weather is cooler and the recent time change means it’s already dark when many people get home from work. That all adds up to darkened moods for some people.

Psychiatrists at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say this condition is called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. It’s a form of depression related to exposure to certain frequencies of light. It most often occurs in fall and wintertime when people get less exposure to sunlight.

Researchers are still studying this condition, but Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, a UT Southwestern psychiatrist, says that light therapy has been beneficial for treating SAD. Therapists use special light bulbs in light boxes or therapeutic lamps to expose patients to the light they’re missing during the winter. That then adjusts the brain chemistry and eases the depression.

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are very much like those of depression. See a doctor or therapist if you notice that your sleeping or eating habits have changed, if you’re irritable, if you don’t enjoy your usual favorite activities, if you withdraw from friends or family, or if you find yourself thinking of death.

If these symptoms persist beyond just a few days or an event that makes you sad, you could have depression. If the symptoms start during the fall, it could be seasonal affective disorder.