All patients must meet the diagnostic criteria for recurrent major depression or bipolar mood disorder. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is then a sub-type specifier used to describe temporal variations of these disorders. As such, SAD is not considered a stand-alone diagnosis or comorbid condition to recurrent major depression or bipolar disorder. Common presentations include the initiation or worsening of depressive symptoms during the autumn or winter months, and full remission during the spring or summer months, or hypo-manic or manic symptoms presenting during spring or summer months.
Circadian and neurotransmitter factors are likely to contribute to the pathophysiology of SAD, although the exact mechanism of action remains ill-understood. The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus is being increasingly recognised as the 'master regulator' of several systems implicated in seasonal mood regulation. Diminished light during the autumn and winter may cause a phase shift in various circadian rhythms, including sleep-wake cycle, body temperature, hormone levels, and melatonin secretion.
From 1999 to 2010, for example, the age-adjusted rate for Americans 25 and older was 12.8 deaths per million people. For comparison, the country with the highest age-adjusted death from 1994 to 2008 was the United Kingdom with 17.8 deaths per million.