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Shedding Light on SAD: Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder

November 23, 2023

As the crisp Ontario air turns frosty and the days grow shorter, some individuals may find themselves battling more than just the winter chill. They may be impacted by Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, a mental health condition that affects people during specific seasons. 

SAD is more than just the “winter blues.” Join us as we explore what SAD is, uncover its impact on Ontario residents, look at the science behind light therapy as a treatment and consider practical strategies for coping with SAD in the upcoming winter season.  

Let's shed light on this dark part of the winter months. 

What is SAD and How Does it Impact Ontario Residents?  

SAD is a subtype of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. It most commonly occurs in the fall and winter months when daylight hours dwindle. It can affect anyone, regardless of age or gender. For Ontario residents (and other Canadians), the impact can be particularly pronounced due to the region's long and dark winters. 

Alternatively, it’s also possible for individuals to struggle with a spring onset of SAD, often dubbed summer depression. This type is less common. 

  • Feelings of anxiety, sadness and/or hopelessness 

  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed 

  • Feelings of irritability  

  • Changes in sleeping patterns 

  • Fatigue and low energy 

  • Decreased sex drive 

  • Changes in appetite and/or weight

  • Social withdrawal

  • Struggles to concentrate 

These symptoms often subside during the spring and summer months. 

The reduced exposure to natural light during the winter months is a key trigger for SAD. Ontario's latitude results in shorter days and less sunlight during the winter, making its residents more at risk for this disorder. It’s estimated that 15 per cent of Canadians will experience (and report) a case of SAD in their lifetime. 

Additionally, someone with a history of depression may be more likely to experience this season-based depression. 

If Reduced Exposure to Natural Sunlight Causes SAD, Does That Mean Light Can Help? 

One of the primary treatments for SAD is light therapy, also known as phototherapy. This treatment involves exposure to a specialized lightbox that emits bright, full-spectrum light, mimicking natural sunlight. This could look like a person sitting in front of a special lamp for about half an hour in the morning, although a doctor or mental health professional may suggest a recommended schedule. You should speak with your doctor or healthcare professional before starting light therapy to better understand how it might be able to work for you.  

Because this lamp mimics sunlight, this exposure also provides the benefits of outdoor light, like vitamin D and neurotransmitters like melatonin and serotonin. These play a critical role in regulating mood and sleep patterns 

Please note that while light therapy may improve the symptoms of SAD, it does not cure the condition.  

How Can I Get Ahead of SAD Symptoms and Cope with This Disorder This Coming Winter Season?  

Just like with other types of depression, SAD can be effectively managed with holistic approach. Here are some strategies to help you cope with SAD in the upcoming winter season: 

Light Therapy: Consult a healthcare professional to determine if light therapy is suitable for you.  


Sunlight Exposure: Whenever possible, make an effort to expose yourself to natural light during daylight hours. Sitting beside a window with the blinds open, or even a short walk, may be helpful.  


Healthy Lifestyle: Maintain a balanced diet, engage in regular physical activity and social connection, and try to get enough sleep.  


Medication: A healthcare professional may recommend medication to manage SAD symptoms. 


Therapeutic Support: Consider psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), to develop coping strategies and address negative thought patterns associated with SAD. 


If you or someone you know is struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder, don't hesitate to seek professional help. And we at the OPA can assist you in finding the right practitioner to guide you through this challenging season. You don't have to face SAD alone; help is just a click away.  

Visit to find the right psychologist for you.   


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