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diagnostic & treatment of sad (seasonal affective disorder)

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – Diagnosis and treatment


Even with a thorough evaluation, it can sometimes be difficult for your doctor or mental health professional to diagnose seasonal affective disorder because other types of depression or other conditions can cause similar symptoms.

  • Physical Exam – Your doctor may do a physical exam and ask in-depth questions about your health. In some cases, depression may be linked to an underlying physical health problem.
  • Lab TestFor example, your doctor may do a blood test called a complete blood count (CBC) or test your thyroid to make sure it’s functioning properly.

  • Mood Questionnaires – The PHQ-9 and GAD-7 are commonly used tools to rate symptoms, mood, and behavior patterns. You may fill out a questionnaire to help answer these questions.
  • Past History – Your mental health professional will look at your history and use the criteria for seasonal depressive episodes listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association.


Treatment for seasonal affective disorder may include light therapy, medications and psychotherapy. If you have bipolar disorder, tell your doctor — this is critical to know when prescribing light therapy or an antidepressant. Both treatments can potentially trigger a manic episode.

  • Light Therapy – Light therapy uses a specific UV light that mimics natural sunlight and helps to support improve mood during the dark winter months.

    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 with few side effects. The SAD lights have become more common and affordable in recent years, as LED and lighting technology improved.

    Talk to your doctor or Mental Health provider about how and when to use the SAD light.

  • Medication – Some people with SAD benefit from antidepressant treatment, especially if symptoms are ongoing and severe.

    There are several medications that can reduce depressive symptoms for people with a history of SAD or seasonal mood flucuations.

    Your doctor may recommend starting treatment with an antidepressant before your symptoms typically begin each year, or they may recommend to continue medications throughout the years to maintain stable mood.

    It can take a few weeks to notice the full benefits from an antidepressant. Always consult with your doctor if you have any questions or notice side effects.

  • Counsellingis a great option to treat SAD. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the primary evidence based treatment. CBT helps to:

    • Identify and change negative Thoughts and Behaviors that may be adding to your symptoms
    • Develop new and healthy ways to cope with symptoms of SAD
    • Reduce avoidance behavior and increase positive scheduling activities
    • Improve stratigies to manage stress
  • Mind-Body Connection – Counselling also offers stratigies using mind-body techniques that some people find helpful to cope with SAD:

    • Relaxation and grounding techniques
    • Meditation and Mindfulness
    • Guided imagery
    • Music or art therapy