Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that follows the seasons, according to the Clintonville-based Ohio Academy of Family Physicians.

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that follows the seasons, according to the Clintonville-based Ohio Academy of Family Physicians.

The most common type of disorder is called winter depression. It usually begins in late fall or early winter and goes away by summer.

As many as a half million people in the United States may have winter depression; another 10 to 20 percent may experience mild SAD, according to an academy spokeswoman.

Seasonal affective disorder may be related to changes in the amount of daylight during different times of the year.

"Nearly all studies report a higher incidence in women, but SAD might be more severe for men," Dr. Renee Markovich, a family physician with the Akron General Center for Family Medicine was quoted as saying. "There is mixed data on the ages, but in general SAD can start at age 23 and decrease as people age."

Although symptoms are clues to diagnose SAD, not everyone with the disorder has the same symptoms, the academy spokeswoman indicated.

Common symptoms of winter depression include a change in appetite, especially a craving for sweet or starchy foods; weight gain; fatigue and avoidance of social situations.

Symptoms may also include some of the ones that are present in other forms of depression.

These symptoms include feelings of guilt, a loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy, ongoing feelings of hopelessness, and physical problems such as headaches.

"SAD is the seasonal pattern of a major depressive episode," Markovich was quoted as saying. "The variation is that it occurs with a change of season and then when that season ends it goes into remission. It is not really a separate diagnosis than depression; it is more a variant."

Symptoms of SAD keep coming back year after year, and they tend to come and go at about the same time every year. The changes in mood are not necessarily related to obvious things that would make a certain season stressful, such as regularly being unemployed during the winter.

"Treatment is usually medications and psychotherapy," according to Markovich. "However, in people who are not suicidal there is a unique opportunity to use light therapy with ultraviolet 'light boxes' that can be used to simulate additional hours of sunlight during the day.

"Also, talk to your doctor about any symptoms you may be experiencing, eat healthy and be active; try new activities to keep you moving."