As colder weather, soaring COVID-19 cases and disrupted holidays force people indoors this winter, more Americans may struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — a type of depression that kicks in when days grow shorter and temperatures fall.
“Biologically and chemically, people have a reaction to weather changes and darkness, and it’s a time when we have more isolation,” says Cara McNulty, DPA, President of Behavioral Health and EAP at Aetna. “The physical distancing and closures as a result of the pandemic make seasonal affective disorder, especially this year, something really important to pay attention to.”
SAD affects six in every 100 people on average. The causes are unclear, but women are four times more likely to feel its effects. “Women have higher rates of anxiety and depression, which puts them more at risk,” says McNulty.
Adolescents and young adults can suffer from SAD, too. “We’re pretty good at acknowledging grief and loss when a loved one passes, but we don't often acknowledge grief and loss around things like there wasn't college graduation, or you're starting high school online and you're not meeting friends,” McNulty says.