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Seasonal Affective Disorder and Its Effects On People

Photo by Andrew Neel

It’s that time of year again when we say goodbye to summer and hello winter. The days get shorter (and cooler), making it hard for us humans out here in the world to live our everyday lives. 

If you ever feel like your energy is drained, your motivation has disappeared into thin air, your mood is foul, and your socialization abilities are getting way inadequate as longer nights and shorter days arrive. Know that a lot of people share these emotions. 

According to the American Psychiatric Association, Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is “seasonal depression or winter depression. In the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), this disorder is identified as a type of depression – Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern.”

“People with SAD experience mood changes and symptoms similar to depression. The symptoms usually occur during the fall and winter months when there is less sunlight and usually improve with the arrival of spring,” the official website further writes. 

The winter blues are supposed to reach their peak on the third Monday of January – some call it Blue Monday.

SAD affects both men and women, although it is commonly widespread among women in their fertile years. 

5% of Americans undergo SAD in its “syndromal” kind – where symptoms can critically affect an individual’s functional abilities, as per a Georgetown University School of Medicine clinical professor of psychiatry Dr. Norman Rosenthal, also known as the author of the book “Winter Blues.” 

The 15% of American adults who experience symptoms that don’t meet the criteria for a diagnosable condition are known as “subsyndromal,” Rosenthal said. “1 in 5 people are having some trouble with the winter” in the US. 

One of the first researchers on SAD, Rosenthal first described and diagnosed the disorder after observing his own change in mood and energy in the 1980s when he moved from Johannesburg, South Africa, to New York City, USA, in 1976. 

“I struggled through until the spring, and then the energy came back. This happened for three straight years,” Rosenthal remarked.

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