In order for the condition to be diagnosed, it has to meet the criteria for clinical depression – low mood, lack of ability to enjoy anything, difficulty concentrating, no appetite, changed sleep patterns, or loss of interest in hobbies. Several of these symptoms have to be occurring at the same time for at least two weeks during the winter months, Dr. Erik Nelson, psychiatrist at the University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute’s Mood Disorders Center, says.
The signs would also have to be significant enough to affect your functioning on a daily basis and really hold you back. “Most people don’t seek treatment because they know the symptoms would go away in a few weeks and they will feel better,” Dr. Nelson says. Having suicidal thoughts is automatically a reason to seek help.
There is no guaranteed way to prevent SAD. Big risk factors include living in a northern climate, he adds. Typically, the further one is from the equator, the more at risk they are for seasonal depression, according to Mental Health America.
About half a million people in the U.S. are affected between September and April, peaking in December, January and February. Three out of four patients are women.
It’s always good to check with your primary care physician or with a specialist if you suspect you have the SAD, Dr. Nelson says. “It’s a debilitating condition that puts you at risk of more serious mental illnesses.” It could be bipolar disorder, but it could also be a thyroid problem. It’s better to be safe than sorry.