When the Winter Blues Make You SAD

| Posted On Dec 28, 2022 | By:

As the months grow colder and darker, New Englanders must adjust to seasonal changes. Those who love winter sports celebrate, while others find themselves somewhat sadder and even depressed. Picture this: It’s the middle of a long winter, and you look out your window into the seemingly never-ending string of cold, gloomy days. Soon, you realize it’s already dark outside, and the clock has not even passed 5 p.m. This loss of light and the incoming cold can have a negative impact on our mood.

What Is SAD and How Common Is It?

During the darker days of winter, 10 to 20% of Americans suffer from mild depression or fatigue. For many, this condition, known as the “winter blues,” is a normal response to less sunlight. But approximately 5% of Americans experience a stronger reaction, a clinical form of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

SAD is a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons. The formal diagnostic classification of SAD from The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR) is recurrent Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern. Although recurrent summer depressive episodes can happen, these are much less common than the pattern of winter depression.

Since SAD is typically linked so close to wintertime, it is not surprising that SAD is much more common in the northern states, where the seasonal change is most pronounced compared to the southern states. In the U.S., for example, winter depression is relatively rare in Floria but affects nearly 1 in 10 people in New England. By spring and summer, when we see more daylight and the temperatures start to warm, most people recover completely from winter SAD.

What Causes SAD?

There is still ongoing debates among scientists on the precise causes of SAD, but certain factors seem to play a role:

Typical Symptoms

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the symptoms of SAD vary but can include many symptoms similar to major depression, such as:

Getting Help If You or a Loved One is Facing Emotional Distress

Symptoms of depression may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses. If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above and are having difficulty functioning at school or work, or if your symptoms interfere with your ability to interact with your family or others, or you feel hopeless and have thoughts of suicide, consult your healthcare provider immediately, who can help with a diagnosis and treatment plan, or seek help at the closest emergency room. You can also dial 988 to reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or visit https://988lifeline.org/.

How Can You Beat the Winter Blues?

Treatment Options


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About Quynh Tran, Psy.D.

Quynh Tran, Psy.D., is an Atrius Health behavioral fellow at our Chelmsford office. Quynh received her PsyD at Antioch University. Before coming to Atrius Health, she was trained in various settings, including integrated primary care, university counseling centers, community mental health, and patient-centered medical home. Quynh's clinical focus revolves around trauma-informed care. Her main goal is to assist patients in identifying their underlying strengths and utilizing those strengths to achieve their goals.