Posted in Mental Health, Stigma Talks

Seasonal Affective Disorder SAD

fall leaves nov 2011 tree

There is something so extraordinary about autumn.  The different hues of the leaves and vegetation transforming nature in its last art exhibit just before Mother Nature’s final curtain. I love to go on long drives this time of year and lately, I stop my car anywhere…right in any spot where my eye is drawn to beauty. 

But the entire season is not ALL great.  There is half of autumn when the leaves have all fallen, when the ground is turning a non-colour, and when you can’t differentiate green from harvest gold to beige to decay. The days have shortened so much that darkness takes up the majority of those 24 hours. And you’ve guessed it; moods start to change with some folks.  Yours truly is one of them.

When I was a teen, my parents separated and our family home was auctioned off mid-October. For years thereafter, I always associated the fall/winter blues with that transition in my life. But then I grew up, got married, had kids and our son was born November 7th

“Well,” I thought to myself, “Finally, a reason to make fall and winter a happy event.”  And it did change for years while the children were little, getting ready for Halloween, dressing up …Oh!  How I loved dressing up as much as the kids!  Neighbours didn’t even recognize me when we would go out trick or treating.  Then came our son’s birthday, and the weeks following was prepping for the arrival of Santa. It was exciting!  After the holidays, the kids loved making snow forts,  going to hockey games kept me very busy and active with fun things to do.

 Well, actually seeing the children playing, making snow angels and snow forts and their eyes filled with wonder Christmastime seemed to fill those months with enough “sunshine” in my life.  As they got into their teen years, their outings were less and less with parents, obviously and I was noticing these winter blues slowly creep in once again, dreading November to February. 

Of course life perked up come March! It was my birthday and then St Patrick’s Day! Being part Irish and Catholic…St Paddy’s Day parade in Montreal is one of the oldest in the country.  My great-grandfather O’Donnell used to be part of this festive day.  And that brings us to springtime, when Mother Nature is cleaning the gallery with wild March winds and raising slowly the Rideau de Renaissance and watch mother earth reborn.

Now I am still finding myself in a bluesy mood starting just about now, the days are shorter…Oh, how I miss those sunsets at supper time!  It`s almost like nature is half awake…or one eye open and the other ready to close…come 2 or 3 in the afternoon, I can feel the sky winking … a mocking wink almost hissing, “Bye Bye sunshine!”

I had heard of SAD Seasonal Affective Disorder over the years and frankly in Quebec, we do tend to hibernate during our long winter months.  People seem to go out less, eat in more often and wrap ourselves in our cocoon until springtime.  Some say it is lack of sunlight and that going out for morning and mid-day walks may help.  I was not too sure about the SAD. I was not quite convinced…yet.

Last fall I attended a lecture series on Mental Health. One lecture was on Depression, mood disorders and the blues.  Dr. Mimi Israël talked about different mood disorders and talked about SAD as well. It was no longer a pop psychology phenomenon hearing her describe research studies on this condition.  Facts such as locations further north where the days were much shorter people were known to suffer depression more as well the rate of suicide was higher there. If a person suffered depressed moods for more than 2 consecutive winters in a row that may be related to SAD; other conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, thyroid conditions  had to be eliminated, first, as a cause for changed moods, then it could probably be SAD. Well, imagine that!  

Strategies were discussed to reduce the symptoms such as exercise, good nutrition and exposure to “light”.  I remember a supervisor at work telling me the …..light therapy made a difference in her life during the fall and winter months. Hmm, and last year I bought a light for my daughter in law and she said it helped her too.

Here are a few links on this subject and I do have the lecture of Dr Israël however it is in French only.

Here is a summary of the symptoms as well as tips to help reduce the signs of SAD that you can read more in depth from the Canadian Mental Health Association. 




«  What Causes SAD? 

Research into the causes of SAD is ongoing. As yet, there is no confirmed cause. However, SAD is thought to be related to seasonal variations in light A “biological internal clock” in the brain regulates our circadian (daily) rhythms. This biological clock responds to changes in season, partly because of the differences in the length of the day. For many thousands of years, the cycle of human life revolved around the daily cycle of light and dark. We were alert when the sun shone; we slept when our world was in darkness. The relatively recent introduction of electricity has relieved us of the need to be active mostly in the daylight hours. But our biological clocks may still be telling our bodies to sleep as the days shorten. This puts us out of step with our daily schedules, which no longer change according to the seasons. Other research shows that neurotransmitters, chemical messengers in the brain that help regulate sleep, mood, and appetite, may be disturbed in SAD.


What are the Symptoms?  

As stated above, one must eliminate other factors before diagnosing  SAD. Some symptoms may include: 

change in appetite, cravings for sweets/carbs 

weight gain

decreased energy


tendency to oversleep

difficulty concentrating 


avoidance of social situations 

feelings of anxiety and despair  

The symptoms of SAD generally disappear when spring arrives.  

How is SAD Treated? 

If you find yourself depressed for long periods of time and you are having thoughts of suicide…seek professional help such as your family doctor. There is treatment for SAD. Even people with severe symptoms can get rapid relief once they begin treatment.

People with mild symptoms can benefit from spending more time outdoors during the day receiving maximum sunlight. Move furniture so that you sit near a window. Installing skylights and adding lamps can also help. 

Exercise relieves stress, builds energy and increases your mental and physical well-being. Build physical activity into your lifestyle before SAD symptoms take hold. If you exercise indoors, position yourself near a window. Make a habit of taking a daily noon-hour walk. The activity and increased exposure to natural light can raise your spirits.  

A winter vacation in a sunny destination can also temporarily relieve SAD symptoms.  

Many people with SAD respond well to exposure to bright, artificial light. “Light therapy,” involves sitting beside a special fluorescent light box for several minutes day. A health care professional should be consulted before beginning light therapy. 

For people who are more severely affected by SAD, antidepressant medications are safe and effective in relieving symptoms. Counseling and therapy, such as CBT (Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy) » 

© Cheryl-Lynn Roberts, Stop the Stigma with Cher Shares 

Source: Canadian Mental Health Association
Douglas Hospital, Dr. Mimi Israël Lecture on Depression and other blues. (French)
 Mood Disorders 

Related articles:

Beat the Winter Blues: Tips to Avoid Seasonal Affective Disorder

The Signs That SAD is Coming




A little bit about moi: I am a mom, a nana, a sister, a woman, a friend, a human being…a youth counsellor, Family Life Educator. I have been working in the helping profession for over 25 years and volunteered in various capacities from youths to seniors. Tournesol is my nom de plume for haiku and other Japanese form poetry here at Tournesoldansunjardin I hope you enjoy reading through my daily waka. I also have another blog "Stop the Stigma" where I may stand on my soapbox now and then and hope it will become a place to drop in and share or comment on issues important to you. In that vein this could be a great way to learn from each other. Namaste!

9 thoughts on “Seasonal Affective Disorder SAD

  1. SAD is so appropriately named. I find that I struggle in winter to get out of bed sometimes. Excellent and informative post on this condition!


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