Diagnosing Sad Diagnosis And Symptoms Of Sad

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a seasonal depression pattern that occurs at the same time every year. Most people experience SAD in the late fall and winter months, but some people experience symptoms of SAD in the late spring and early summer. Diagnosing SAD can be difficult for health care providers because other types of depression or mental health conditions share the same signs and symptoms.

Medical Exams and Tests for a Diagnosis of SAD

When diagnosing SAD, a health care provider will begin by asking detailed questions about a variety of factors, including:

  • How your thoughts and behavior change with the seasons
  • Your lifestyle and social situation
  • Your sleeping and eating patterns.

You may also need to fill out psychological questionnaires to assess your emotional well being and cognitive functioning (ability to think, reason, and remember).

Your health care provider may do a physical examination, blood tests or other tests to check for underlying physical conditions that might be causing your symptoms. However, no single medical test can provide a diagnosis of SAD.

SAD and Depression

Doctors use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), published by the American Psychiatric Association, to diagnose mental health problems. The DSM-IV does not classify SAD as a separate mood disorder but considers it a “specifier,” meaning that SAD is the seasonal pattern of major depressive spells that can occur as part of major depressive or bipolar disorders.

In other words, for a diagnosis of SAD, you must first meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression. You must have at least five of the following nine symptoms nearly every day for two consecutive weeks:

  • Depressed mood
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of extreme or inappropriate guilt, or worthlessness
  • Indecisiveness or decreased ability to concentrate or think
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (trouble staying awake during the day)
  • Markedly diminished pleasure or interest in most or all activities
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation (restlessness brought on by mental tension or a visible slowing of physical activity)
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or committing suicide
  • Significant weight loss without dieting, weight gain or a decrease or increase in appetite.

Of the five symptoms you experience, at least one must be either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in activities to be diagnosed with SAD. Also, the symptoms must not be due to a general medical condition, a substance-induced mood disorder, bereavement or a psychotic disorder.

In addition to the above criteria, for a diagnosis of SAD, you must meet the following conditions:

  • You have experienced depression and other symptoms of SAD for at least two consecutive years, during the same season every year.
  • Your changes in mood or behavior have no other explanation.
  • Your periods of depression have been followed by periods of time without depression.

If you believe you are experiencing the symptoms of SAD, or any other mental health condition, consult a professional health care provider.


Saeed, S. A., et al (1998). Seasonal affective disorders. Retrieved May 7, 2010, from the American Family Physician website: www.aafp.org/afp/980315ap/saeed.html.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2009). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): tests and diagnosis. Retrieved May 7, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic website: www.mayoclinic.com/health/seasonal-affective-disorder/DS00195/DSECTION=tests-and-diagnosis.