When daylight saving time ends on the first Sunday in November, we let out a collective groan. But for people who struggle with seasonal depression, the shorter days aren’t just a bummer. This time of year typically marks the onset of their symptoms, which can be debilitating at times.
Also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), this mental health condition is a subtype of clinical depression that starts and ends around the same time every year — usually beginning in fall, lasting through winter and subsiding in spring. The decreased daylight in the fall and winter months is thought to trigger most cases of SAD.
“Sunlight helps moderate well-being, so when less of it is available, it derails our biological clock — also known as our circadian rhythm — resulting in a mood disorder with a seasonal onset,” said psychologist Deborah Serani, a professor at Adelphi University and author of “Living With Depression.” Changes in serotonin and melatonin levels during this time of year may also play a role in the disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder is a subtype of clinical depression. Symptoms usually begin and end around the same time each year.
It’s not uncommon to experience the “winter blues,” a slight mood shift or sluggishness due to colder weather and less sunshine. But seasonal depression has a more significant impact on your daily functioning.
“Winter blues don’t interfere with your ability to enjoy life or accomplish day-to-day activities,” Serani said. “But if your winter blues become more pronounced, negatively impacting school, work, home and personal life, a more involved disorder may be operating.”
Some experts worry that the ongoing stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic will make this an especially difficult few months for those with SAD — and the reprieve they’ve come to expect in the spring may be less apparent.
“On one hand, people with SAD are used to isolating in the winter because they tend to withdraw and go into ‘hibernation mode’ as part of their symptoms,” University of Vermont psychologist Kelly Rohan, who studies seasonal depression, told Vogue.com. “However, I believe that the stress associated with the COVID-19 pandemic is contributing to both more severe depression symptoms than is typical in people with SAD