Text Size
27 Sep 2023

No need to be SAD

Mental Health

Now is the winter of our discontent, is the famous opening line of Richard III, a play by William Shakespeare. In 1984 psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal followed in the Bard’s footsteps, by being the first to use a new term that changed the way people think about winter.

People who say they don’t thrive and generally feel unmotivated, may have a SAD tale to tell.

SAD stands for seasonal affective disorder. It is a very real type of depression that's related to changes in seasons. It tends to begin and end at approximately the same time each year.

For those affected by SAD, the symptoms (energy sapping and moodiness) tend to manifest themselves in autumn and continuing into the winter months. These symptoms often resolve during the spring and summer months. Less often, some experience depression in spring or early summer, with resolution coming in the autumn and winter.

It is important not to brush off the feelings simply as a case of winter blues that have to be weathered with no relief. Take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.

Signs and symptoms of SAD may include:

  • Feeling listless, sad or down most of the day, nearly every day.
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed.
  • Having low energy and feeling sluggish.
  • Having problems with sleeping too much.
  • Experiencing carbohydrate cravings, overeating and weight gain.
  • Having difficulty concentrating.
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty.
  • Having thoughts of not wanting to live.
  • Appetite changes especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates.


Seasonal changes and bipolar disorder

People who have bipolar disorder are at increased risk of seasonal affective disorder. In some cases, episodes of mania may be linked to a specific season. For example, spring and summer can bring on symptoms of mania or a less intense form of mania (hypomania), anxiety, agitation and irritability. They may also experience depression, during the fall and winter months.

Summertime Blues

Some people may experience depressive episodes during the spring and summer months; this is called summer-pattern SAD or summer depression, and is less common.

When to seek medical help

It's normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time, and you can't get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your health care provider. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, and/or you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation.

If you are feeling hopeless or think about suicide phone or text 1737 (‘Need to Talk’) or phone 0800 543 354 or text 4357 (0800 Lifeline). Both are free 24/7 helplines for all age-groups, staffed by trained and experienced counsellors.

Talking therapy is a well-evidenced intervention (including a NZ study in 2018 by Superu/Social Wellbeing Agency on the effectiveness of social sector helplines). Both the government helpline (‘1737’) and Lifeline use qualified staff and have robust models of clinical practice, and they require their clinicians to have regular professional supervision.

Feedback welcomed

We'd like to hear your thoughts on this topic

Click here to submit your feedback

Date Published: September 2023

To be reviewed: September 2026