Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), often called “Seasonal Depression,” is a type of depression that occurs almost entirely in the winter months. Although it is a psychological disorder, studies do seem to show that it is linked directly to earlier nightfall and more time spent indoors (away from natural light) during the colder winter season.
This link is so strong that “light therapy,” where a person exposes themselves to artificial light, can reduce the symptoms of seasonal depression. As a psychological disorder, it is still recommended that a person seek out mental health treatment, because the symptoms of depression can linger in their own way, but there is no denying that seasonal depression and winter are strongly interlinked.
However, just because there is a link between the two conditions does not mean that a person’s seasonal affective disorder is entirely related to darkness and cold weather. Many people that struggle with SAD also find that there are other mental health issues occurring during this time that are also playing a role.
Why Might Someone Feel Depression in Winter?
Winter, for many reasons, is a season when people may be more at risk for experiencing depression. Seasonal affective disorder is very likely to play a role, but there are other issues during this time as well that may affect a person’s mental health. For example:
- Family trauma is more likely to arise during this time. Thanksgiving, Christmas/Channukah, and New Years are holidays where many people get together with family and friends – sometimes after not seeing them for an entire year. This is a time when those that have unresolved family issues can experience depression as a result.
- The holidays are often a very busy time. Many people find themselves overwhelmed by holiday planning, or the cost associated with gift giving, or any of the many other needs that are specifically associated with the holidays. It is not uncommon to find this time very stressful, which would cause depression to occur more often during this time.
- College students often have finals, and children have busy schedules with very limited vacation time. We are months away from summer, which can often serve as a reset, so winter months are a time when the stresses of a busy life become more prominent.
- Many of us find that our exercise levels decrease in the winter. We spend less time outside and going on walks. We may overeat (possibly due to the holidays) or see our friends less knowing that it is cold and most of our spring to fall activities are closed. These can all lead to issues related to depression.
Some people also find that they feel more alone during the holiday season, when others are spending time with family. These are all potential contributors to depressive symptoms that appear to arise in winter.
Depression, as a condition, also changes how you feel about events, people, and other things in your life. A person with seasonal affective disorder may then be more likely to experience additional depression related to past family traumas (for example) in a way that does not occur during summer. This means that the cause of a person’s winter blues may be multifaceted, and not limited to just winter-related weather.
Seeking a Therapist for Better Mental Health
There are many reasons that a person may experience poor mental health in the winter. Seasonal depression is likely to be the primary cause, but what creates those feelings of depression may be more than just lack of light alone. If you often feel like you struggle in winter, contact Flourish Psychology today for mental health support.