By: Melissa Harrell, WAGES Mental Health Coordinator

What is Winter Depression and What are the Causes?

The technical term is Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD. This is a form of depression that is basically major depression disorder with seasonal patterns. This means that during the colder months depression can become more intense and harder to deal with. During the colder months, most people are not getting enough sun and it becomes darker quicker and can be a big part of SAD. The symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Social withdrawal

If you are like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. The major causes of this are your biological clock which is the reduced sunlight in the fall and winter, serotonin levels (which is a brain chemical that affects your mood), and melatonin levels (which plays a major role in SAD and affects sleeping patterns and mood).

Blessing Jar

Take a mason jar and decorate it. Then, everyday you write down on a piece of paper everything that was good that day and put it into the jar. Then, every month, open the jar and look at all the blessings you have received through the month. You will be surprised by the many blessings you will have. It does not matter how little the blessing is, it’s important. The point of this is that we let the negative thigs in our lives take control and ruin our day and we miss the blessings.

Treatment for SAD

Light Therapy

Light therapy, also called phototherapy, is when you sit a few feet from a special light box so that you’re exposed to bright light within the first hour of waking up each day. Light therapy mimics natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood. Light therapy is one of the first line treatments for fall-onset SAD. It generally starts working in a few days to a few weeks and causes few side effects.


Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is another option to treat SAD. A type of psychotherapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy can help with identifying and changing negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse. This can also help you learn healthy ways to cope with SAD, especially with reducing avoidance behavior and scheduling activities, and learning how to manage stress.