SAD and the Winter Blues

I recently had the honor of participating in a local panel discussion about seasonal affective disorder and the winter blues. Today, I will be sharing some insights gained from that discussion and more.

What are SAD and the Winter Blues?

Though it’s not the official term, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is how most of us describe the series of depressive symptoms that occur between the fall and winter months. SAD  symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Low mood (sadness)
  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Apathy
  • Anhedonia (loss of pleasure)
  • Sometimes suicidal thoughts

SAD typically has an onset in the fall, usually around daylight savings time and tends to persist through the winter months before letting up in the spring. To meet the DSM 5 criteria for seasonal affective disorder, a person needs to have this seasonal pattern of depressive symptoms for at least two years in a row, showing significant decline in the winter months and a remission of symptoms in the spring and summer months. In rare cases, seasonal affective disorder can impact people in the spring and summer months.

The difference between seasonal affective disorder and the winter blues is that seasonal affective disorder is a clinical disorder that impairs a person’s biological, psychological, and social functioning, reducing their overall quality of life. Winter blues has similar symptoms but does not result in the impairment of day-to-day functioning.

According to

  • Seasonal affective disorder impacts about 5% of United States adults annually.
  • The winter blues impact about 14% of United States adults annually.

What causes SAD and the Winter Blues?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, we receive less sunlight in the winter and late fall months. This results in higher levels of melatonin, which makes us feel sleepy. We also get less vitamin D, which is involved in energy production. We also have lower levels of serotonin, which helps to regulate our mood.

“People of color are particularly susceptible to SAD because they have more melanin, which hinders absorption of vitamin D.” ~Dr. Lakesha Roney, LPC.

How can we cope?

  • Talk therapy with a licensed professional counselor
  • SAD boxes- light therapy boxes that help make up for the decreased exposure to sunlight.
  • Medication (if deemed necessary by a psychiatrist or physician)
  • Exercise
  • Socialization
  • Supplements: especially D3 and B12 which help with brain functioning, energy, and mood regulation.


If you or someone you know suffers from seasonal affective disorder or the winter blues, the key is to be proactive! Start using the aforementioned coping skills and strategies BEFORE Daylight Savings Time to be better prepared for the seasonal shift in mood.

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