Harvard Mental Health Letter

New treatment options for seasonal affective disorder

Possible alternatives to bright white light are under investigation.

The most common form of seasonal affective disorder arrives in the fall, tends to worsen in January and February, and then subsides in the spring. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) classifies seasonal affective disorder as a subtype or "specifier" of either major depression or bipolar disorder, in which depressive symptoms recur on a seasonal basis. As many as one in five patients with seasonal depressive symptoms actually has bipolar disorder.

About half a million Americans — women more often than men — meet diagnostic criteria for seasonal affective disorder, while many others experience milder symptoms. Symptoms may include loss of pleasure and energy, feelings of worthlessness, inability to concentrate, and an uncontrollable urge to eat sugar and high-carbohydrate foods.

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