Fall Season

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Fall is here. The leaves are changing and the mornings are getting chilly. The occasional overcast day creeps in. After a while, the overcast day becomes the “new normal” until spring shows up. A lot of people welcome the seasonal change. But for some, it just means they are headed closer to days where it takes a lot more effort to “stay happy”. For those people, there is a greater risk of their mental health taking a downward spiral. Make no mistake — seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is very real.

Signs of SAD

It can affect people in different ways, and varying degrees of intensity. It’s important to note that having an existing mental health condition can determine what type of symptoms someone may have.

But common signs include:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of motivation
  • Weight gain
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Loss of interest in usual activities

There are plenty others, of course. But these are most common. And you can’t help but notice that these signs mimic depression in some ways.

What Causes SAD?

The exact cause of SAD is unknown. However, certain factors that may influence the likelihood of SAD can be serotonin or melatonin levels. These have a big effect on overall mood. Anyone who has an imbalance of either one may be at greater risk for experiencing SAD. Vitamin D levels may also play a factor, which is why it’s always important to get those levels checked by a healthcare provider.

How to Treat SAD

Although seasonal affective disorder is not generally preventable, there are plenty of treatment options that can help make it more manageable. Each option depends on the severity and whether another mental health condition is attached to it.


This option alone may do the trick for many people. Sometimes just seeing a licensed therapist — someone who can provide insight and tools to better cope with the “lull” — can empower someone to get through another dreary season more easily.


Sometimes medication treatment may be needed to help with that imbalance mentioned earlier (seratonin and melatonin). Therapy alone just might not cut it. Although, a combination of medication and therapy has been shown by several studies to be a powerful treatment option. Medication treatment can be done by a psychiatrist, medical doctor, or nurse practitioner level license.

Intensive Outpatient Treatment

An intensive outpatient program (IOP) is an elevated level of care. It’s designed for someone who is at a breaking point — they can’t wait for medication and therapy to help them. It’s because they have major concerns of their life spiraling out of control right now. Maybe they struggle to get out of bed in the morning, they miss a lot of work or school, or they find it hard to even function with their daily relationships. If someone reaches that point, they should contact an IOP treatment center.

Things to Consider…

Some people may be able to manage seasonal affective disorder on their own with no problem. Others may need either peer or professional help to get through another Fall and Winter season. It happens to the best of us. The most important thing someone can do is pay attention to the signs. And if they need help, they should never hesitate to reach out.

To learn more about our intensive outpatient program, contact our IOP staff today.

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