Seasonal Depression: The Dark Times of Winter

Mental Health

As we move closer to winter, the daylight hours become shorter and shorter. Many people suffer from a disorder known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or Seasonal Depression. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer. Depressive episodes linked to the summer can occur but are much less common than winter episodes of SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is not considered as a separate disorder. It is a type of depression displaying a recurring seasonal pattern. To be diagnosed with SAD, people must meet full criteria for major depression coinciding with specific seasons (appearing in the winter or summer months) for at least 2 years. Seasonal depressions must be much more frequent than any non-seasonal depressions.

Dr. Richard Immler, Psychiatrist and Outpatient Services Medical Director at North Central Health Care sat down with WSAW TV 7 for a conversation about Seasonal Affective Disorder, what it is, sign and symptoms and where you can reach out for help.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Signs and symptoms include those that are typical of Major Depression (majority of the following needed for diagnosis but not all for diagnosis):

Symptoms of Major Depression
• Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
• Feeling hopeless or worthless
• Having low energy
• Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
• Having problems with sleep
• Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
• Feeling sluggish or agitated
• Having difficulty concentrating
• Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide.

Symptoms of the Winter Pattern of SAD include:
• Having low energy
• Hypersomnia (sleeping more)
• Overeating
• Weight gain
• Craving for carbohydrates
• Social withdrawal (feel like “hibernating”)

Are some people are more of a risk of seasonal depression? What are the risk factors?

Yes, individuals with a history of depression have a 10 to 20% rate of SAD and those with bipolar disorder are affected 25% of the time.

Women appear to have a rate four times more commonly than men. Younger adults may be at higher risk than older ones. SAD has been reported in children and teenagers.

Living farther from the equator increases risk, for instance 1% of people living in Florida and about 9% of those in the northern part of the US seem to be affected.

A family history of SAD appears to increase risk and there is some research suggesting that low vitamin D levels might be a factor.

When should someone reach out to a doctor?

A health professional should be contacted if
• depressive symptoms reached the point of interfering with functioning,
• make it difficult to experience pleasure,
• and/or are associated with hopelessness or suicidal thoughts.

Additional links to resources:
Medline: Psychological Association:
National Library of Medicine:

For Emergency Assistance:

North Central Health Care Crisis Center:

1100 Lake View Drive
Wausau, WI 54403

Emergency and crisis care available 24 Hours a Day, 7 Days a Week,No appointments required. Serving residents in Langlade, Lincoln and Marathon counties.

715.845.4326 or 800.799.0122

TDD 715.845.4928– For those with hearing or speech difficulties.

800.799.0122 – Toll-Free Call connecting you to Crisis Support in the Marathon, Langlade and Lincoln Counties.

715.845.4326 – Connecting you to Crisis Support in Marathon, Langlade and Lincoln Counties.

If you are thinking of hurting yourself, or if you are concerned that someone else may be suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 800.273.TALK (8255) National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will link you with Crisis Care in any area in the United States.