There is no test for SAD. Your health care provider can make a diagnosis by asking about your history of symptoms.
The health care provider may also perform a physical exam and blood tests to rule out other disorders that are similar to SAD.
As with other types of depression, antidepressant medicines and talk therapy can be effective.
MANAGING YOUR DEPRESSION AT HOME
To manage your symptoms at home:
Get enough sleep.
Eat a healthy foods.
Take medicines the right way. Ask your health care provider how to manage side effects.
Learn to watch for early signs that your depression is getting worse. Have a plan if it does get worse.
Try to exercise more often. Do activities that make you happy.
Do not use alcohol and illegal drugs. These can make depression worse. They can also affect your judgment about suicide.
When you are struggling with depression, talk about how you are feeling with someone you trust. Try to be around people who are caring and positive. Volunteer or get involved in group activities.
Your health care provider may prescribe light therapy. Light therapy uses a special lamp with a very bright light that mimics light from the sun.
Treatment is started in the fall or early winter, before the symptoms of SAD begin.
Follow your health care provider's instructions about how to use light therapy. One way that may be recommended is to sit a couple of feet away from the light box for about 30 minutes each day. This is usually done in the early morning, to mimic sunrise.
Keep your eyes open, but do not look straight into the light source.
Symptoms of depression should improve within 3 to 4 weeks if light therapy is going to help.
People who take medicines that make them more sensitive to light, such as certain psoriasis drugs, antibiotics, or antipsychotics, should not use light therapy.
A checkup with your eye doctor is recommended before starting treatment.
With no treatment, symptoms usually get better on their own with the change of seasons. Symptoms can improve more quickly with treatment.
The outcome is usually good with treatment. Some people, though, have SAD throughout their lives.
Calling your health care provider
Get medical help right away if you have thoughts of hurting yourself or anyone else.
Byrne B, Brainard GC. Seasonal affective disorder and light therapy. Sleep Med Clin. 2008;3:307-315.
Fava M, Cassano P. Mood disorders: major depressive disorder and dysthymic disorder. In: Stern TA, Rosenbaum JF, Fava M, et al., eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2008:chap 29.
Fred K. Berger, MD, Addiction and Forensic Psychiatrist, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, California. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.