Snow-covered cars on a suburban roadSeasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), better known as “winter depression”, describes people with normal mental health who become depressed during the winter months.  Officially, it is a form of depression that seems to recur annually. The malady appears to be particularly prevalent among college students, many of whom spend long hours during the winter months secluded in poorly lit dormitory rooms or libraries.

The symptoms of SAD mimic those of clinical depression: excessive fatigue, lack of sleep, a tendency to crave unhealthy foods such as sweets and starches, and even suicidal thoughts.  Academic or work performance may suffer and interest in outside activities or relationships may dwindle.  Occasionally people who experience SAD go on to develop major depressive disorder or even bipolar disorder if left untreated.  The likelihood of developing symptoms seems to increase in those who have also experienced the shock of living abroad in a cold, relatively dark climate, such as the U.K. or Scandinavia.

It is little wonder that spring break is a popular concept.  By the time February and March come around, people of all ages are desperate for some time in the sun.  However, those who experience SAD can ill afford to wait until the first warm day of spring.  Apart from the usual medications for depression, seasonal affective disorder may respond to light therapy, including sunlight or the placement of bright lights, cognitive behavioral therapy (learning to overcome adverse thoughts or actions through conditioning), melatonin, and even negative air ionization, which involves releasing charged particles into the sleep environment.

Recognition is the key to early intervention and successful treatment, so if you suspect that you or someone close to you is suffering from SAD, it may be a good time to plan a sunny vacation.   Check out cloud cover probabilities around the world month-by-month with an interactive map from NASA’s Earth Observatory to make sure you maximize your chances of catching the rays you need. Or use the map as a possible predictor of where SAD is most prevalent.

Photo by: / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


About The Author

Frank Gillingham, M.D. serves as Chief Medical Director for HTH Worldwide. Frank has led HTH Worldwide's international business development efforts in Europe and Canada and has been a guest speaker at international business conferences and has authored a series of articles on travel medicine, including pieces on travel information available on the Internet and the role of physicians working with travel insurers. Frank is a Board-Certified Internist and Emergency Medicine Specialist. He is also a private emergency physician in Southern California and a former emergency department director and member of the UCLA emergency department staff. Frank completed residency training at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center, received his M.D. from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania .

Subscribe for Updates and News!

Join our email list to receive the latest in healthy travel news, trends and issues.

You have Successfully Subscribed!