Seasonal Affect Disorder: A Real Problem to Be Aware of for Educators

I for one dislike winter, but some people experience more than displeasure during winter. These people have symptoms of depression, such as social withdrawal and lack of interest in hobbies. It’s important not to dismiss these symptoms as trivial “winter blues” because this kind of depression is a genuine medical condition called seasonal affect disorder (also called SAD). Educators should be aware of this condition so that they can seek help if needed, whether for themselves or for students who seem to be struggling with it.

Symptoms of SAD

According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, the symptoms of seasonal affect disorder are much like those for depression. For most people with seasonal affect disorder, symptoms begin in fall, worsen as winter progresses, and disappear in spring and summer. Symptoms include:

  • anxiety
  • hopelessness
  • appetite changes, such as craving carbohydrates
  • weight gain
  • energy loss
  • social withdrawal
  • lack of interest in activities you usually enjoy
  • difficulty concentrating
  • oversleeping
  • heavy feeling in arms or legs

Causes of SAD

Seasonal affect disorder’s precise cause is unknown but appears to be a mix of reduced sunlight and biology. The Mayo Clinic states that individual biochemistry may be one cause. Another may be disruption of the body’s internal clock resulting from decreased sunlight during this season. Decreased sunlight may also reduce the body’s levels of melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin is a natural hormone that affects sleep and mood, and serotonin is a brain chemical that affects mood.

People Likely to Have SAD

According to the Mayo Clinic, seasonal affect disorder is more commonly diagnosed in women than in men. This condition is also common in people with other mental disorders, such as bipolar disorder. People who live far from the equator are more likely to receive a diagnosis of seasonal affect disorder because of the contrasting amounts of sunshine they receive during summer and winter.


If you feel some of the symptoms listed above for more than a week, the Mayo Clinic advises talking to your doctor, especially if they interfere with your ability to work, sleep, and gain pleasure from activities you normally like. If you notice changes in students’ homework quality or social interactions during winter, intervention may be necessary because they may be experiencing seasonal affect disorder. Treatment is available for SAD, so don’t resign yourself to depression every winter.

Work Cited: Mayo Clinic Staff. “Seasonal affect disorder (SAD).” 22 September 2011. Web. 2 January 2014.

*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.


Darla Word

About Darla Word

I'm a writing tutor and editor from Michigan. My favorite subject to write about is writing because making better writers is my calling. I also enjoy reading, singing, swimming, and cardmaking.

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