Advertisement

How is seasonal affective disorder diagnosed?

Sudeepta Varma, MD
Psychiatry
Seasonal Affective Disorder that occurs in the fall and winter months is diagnosed when people’s depressive symptoms predominantly occur in the winter, year after year, and are unrelated to seasonal stress (such as shift work or holiday preparation).  Patients with seasonal depression will notice an improvement in mood and that the depression disappears in the spring. Patients with Seasonal Affective Disorder show characteristics similar to others with non-seasonal major depression (low energy, difficulty concentrating, low mood, appetite disturbances, i.e. wanting to eat more or less, weight gain or loss, memory problems, feelings of guilt, hopelessness, and in some severe cases, even thoughts of suicide. In SAD, patients share the common characteristics of depression, but will also show unique characteristics such as the tendency to eat more (particularly sugar/starchy foods), sleep more, feel fatigued and gain weight in the winter months. People with SAD will also tend to isolate more during this time, avoiding opportunities to gather with friends or family.

The first step in diagnosing seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is an evaluation by a physician or mental health provider that includes questions about your mood, behavior, thoughts, and other symptoms of depression. Following may be a physical exam that includes an evaluation of physical symptoms that may be linked to your depression and a review of your family's medical history. Then a doctor may also call for blood tests if it is believed an underlying condition may be increasing your depression symptoms. Since SAD is a type of depression, it must meet certain criteria to specifically be diagnosed as seasonal affective disorder. These criteria are depression in two consecutive years at the same time each year, periods of depression followed by periods without depression and there are no other explanations of the changes in behavior.

Continue Learning about Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Depression in Teens: Is It the Winter Blues or Something More Serious?
Seasonal Depression in Teens: Is It the Winter Blues or Something More Serious?
The winter holidays are a joyous time for many teens: they’re out of school and opportunities to celebrate and spend time with friends and loved ones ...
Read More
Does seasonal affective disorder affect children differently than adults?
Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is more prevalent in adults than it is in children, but symptoms c...
More Answers
What is the rate of incidence for seasonal affective disorder?
Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)
The rate of incidence of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) increases as one gets nearer to the poles...
More Answers
What Natural Remedies Can I Use to Beat the Winter Blues?
What Natural Remedies Can I Use to Beat the Winter Blues?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.