Insights into patients living with seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a mental health condition triggered by seasonal changes, affects about 10 million American adults (3% of the general population). An additional 10-20% of people experience mild symptoms of SAD. Those with seasonal depression may reach out to their healthcare provider for help with the symptoms. But statistics and clinical visits do not always showcase the realities of how SAD truly affects people.    

Patients living with SAD and over 3,000 other health conditions come to Inspire health communities looking for answers and hoping to share their experiences. Our member communities provide people a place to discuss their concerns, voice their frustrations, and research treatment options. Members open up in ways they might not in a clinical setting.

Inspire Patient Voice™ analyses can help healthcare industry professionals better understand real patient experiences across rare diseases, chronic conditions, and cancer. To highlight these capabilities, Inspire conducted a preliminary Inspire Patient Voice analysis on our members on the topic of seasonal depression. Our analysis highlighted several prominent areas of interest:

Managing SAD and chronic conditions

Living with a chronic condition increases a person’s risk of depression, which can interfere with medication adherence and ongoing treatment for chronic pain and other disorders. Research shows that in older individuals, the number of chronic conditions directly correlates to the risk of depression — the more chronic conditions a person has, the higher their risk of depression.

Chronic pain, often associated with ongoing medical conditions, especially invites depression because it affects sleep quality and stress levels. Between 30-45% of people with chronic pain experience depression.

From Inspire community members: 

“I’m always cold and dislike winter. Maybe I have that seasonal depression due to lack of sunlight or boredom. I just want to hibernate… The pain is real, and no matter what doctors say, most of us with thyroid disease can relate.”

“I have an older brother who will be 84 next month, and I try to help him as best I can… With my fibromyalgia and arthritis, it is getting harder to do that… Anxiety is my biggest problem… I do have depression also… Do you find you are more depressed in the darker winter months?”

The effects of hormones on SAD

Four out of five people with SAD are women. During a woman’s life, menstruation and menopause can interfere with hormone regulation. But a reduced amount of sunlight during the winter also affects hormone production.

From an Inspire community member:

“[Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)]  f*cks up my life every month and gets in the way of living a healthy life… I’m medically diagnosed with severe depression, seasonal depression and severe anxiety… PMDD has been really harmful to my professional career. It’s caused me to miss days at work, quit jobs unplanned, etc… At this point, I am in the most successful time of my life, child-free and my PMDD still gets in the way of my quality of life.”

During the winter months, the body tends to make too much melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. Experts also link depression to low levels of serotonin, a chemical that acts as a hormone to regulate mood, sleep, and hunger. 

Medication management and seasonal depression

From an Inspire community member:

“I take Cymbalta 60mg once a day and became depressed last fall but improved with the addition of Rexulti. However, began having rigidity so psychiatrist simply tried the addition of low dose amitriptyline, which helped with some aches and pains and lifted the depression.”

Depression medication can be tricky to manage during seasonal depression. But it’s not the only medication that concerns Inspire community members, who may be on medications for other conditions. 

Steroids, blood pressure medication, and birth control pills are just a few medications that can cause depression symptoms. Whether patients are already on antidepressants or other medications are affecting their mood, medication management plays a vital role in mood regulation during the winter months.

Alternative treatment for SAD

Inspire members take a proactive approach to health—that’s why our communities are so active. Patients with SAD are looking for ways to feel better beyond pharmacological treatment. 

From Inspire community members:

“I have developed a lot of tools… (CBT journaling, depression groups, meditation, exercise, chiropractic/massage). However, this time I’m really struggling with motivation… And I just can’t figure out why I should work so hard to get back to a little more healthy and functional when it will only last 12-15 months before I crash again.”

“The lack of sun can cause seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It’s a real diagnosis. There is non-medication help. It’s basically representing or fooling your brain into thinking the daylight is longer and stronger than it is. So here you go: 1) dawn simulating alarm clock… 2) lightbox. I’ve found it very good at beating ‘winter blues’… it’s effective. Real studies back it up.”

The need for support while living with SAD

From Inspire community members:

“Does anyone feel their depression start to fade just from a couple days of warm weather after winter? I was able to wear shorts this weekend and go on a hike. It felt great. If only I never had seasonal depression.”

“I have started going to a gym and also speak with a therapist weekly. I am finding myself feeling so sad and lonely. I cry almost every day. I reach out to my friends and family, but when I am alone at times, I feel very vulnerable. I get a pit in my stomach and start to feel so alone.”

People experiencing symptoms of SAD often live with the condition for two or three years before being diagnosed. Even after a diagnosis, people are not always sure where to find the support they need during depressive episodes. 

Learn what Inspire can do for you

SAD is just one of many conditions that Inspire members discuss in our online health communities. We connect our proprietary patient voice data to claims data to uncover unique insights about patient populations that you might not get from typical market research partners. Our unique access to patient perspectives and innovative analytic capabilities allow us to uncover insights for all patient populations and disease states. 

We can help you:

  • Develop resources to improve medication adherence
  • Educate physicians about seasonal disease patterns
  • Identify seasonal variations in prescribed medication protocols
  • Plan campaigns according to appropriate seasonal timelines

Contact a member of our team to learn more about Inspire’s offerings.

Member comments have been lightly edited for length and clarity. This content is for general informational purposes only and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of any organization or individual. The content should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.