Can Melbourne's Weather Cause Seasonal Affective Disorder?

How to find a psychologist that's right for you

Can Melbourne’s Weather Impact Your Mental Health?

The short answer is yes. Melbourne’s weather can indeed impact mental health. The city is renowned for its unpredictable weather patterns, particularly its grey, overcast days during the winter months.

These conditions can lead to fewer hours of natural daylight, which may, in turn, affect the mood and general well-being of people susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or other forms of depression linked to changes in season and light exposure.

In this guide, we’ll shed some light on seasonal affective disorder, its causes, symptoms, how it’s diagnosed, and most importantly, how we can help you treat it.

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder, often abbreviated as SAD, is a type of depression that is connected to changes in seasons.

It’s not just about feeling a little down on a cold and dark day; SAD is a recognised mental health condition that can have a significant impact on a person’s everyday life.

For most people who experience SAD, symptoms start in autumn and continue into the winter months, sapping their energy and making them feel moody. However, a less common form of SAD can occur in the spring or early summer.

SAD is believed to be influenced by the balance of chemicals in the brain, which can be upset by the reduced sunlight in winter.

This can affect our internal clocks, or circadian rhythms, which tell us when to sleep and when to wake up, and can also disrupt the levels of serotonin and melatonin, which play a role in mood and sleep patterns.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms

Seasonal Affective Disorder, whether it strikes in winter or summer, shares several symptoms with depression, such as feelings of sadness, a lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed, and changes in appetite or weight.

Those experiencing SAD might also feel sluggish or agitated, have difficulty concentrating, and could either be sleeping too much or be hit with insomnia.

SAD Symptoms in Winter (Often Called Winter Depression)

During the winter, when SAD is most common, individuals may deal with additional symptoms to the ones mentioned above. They might oversleep and experience an almost heavy feeling in their arms or legs.

Additionally, their energy levels are usually low, and they might find themselves craving carbohydrates, which can lead to weight gain. They may also tend to withdraw from social activities, sometimes called “hibernating.”

SAD Symptoms in Summer (Often Called Summer Depression)

On the flip side, summer-onset SAD can include symptoms that are quite different.

People may experience trouble sleeping, leading to insomnia, and rather than craving carbs, they might lose their appetite, which can lead to weight loss.

There can also be an increase in anxiety and episodes of violent behaviour, which are less commonly associated with winter SAD.

It’s important to recognise these symptoms not as mere day-to-day fluctuations in mood or energy but as possible signs of a more serious condition that may need attention.

In Melbourne, the weather varies greatly, and these shifts could potentially influence the onset and severity of SAD symptoms in some residents.

How to Diagnose Seasonal Affective Disorder

The process of diagnosing Seasonal Affective Disorder begins with a visit to a doctor or mental health professional. During the appointment, the doctor will ask about your mood and energy level history, looking for a pattern that matches the seasons.

A thorough discussion of your symptoms is key; this includes when they start, how long they last, and how they’re affecting your daily life.

Doctors might use specific questionnaires to measure the severity of symptoms and assess changes over time.

Additionally, they might conduct a physical exam to rule out other possible causes for the symptoms, like thyroid issues or anaemia, which can sometimes mimic depression. Blood tests might also be done to check on these potential issues.

It’s essential for the professional to differentiate between SAD and other types of depression or mood disorders. To be diagnosed with SAD, you generally need to have experienced these cyclical symptoms for at least two consecutive years, with periods of non-depressed mood in between.

Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Science is yet to determine the actual cause of SAD. However, some of these factors can contribute to its occurrence:

Circadian Rhythm Disruption

When there’s less daylight, particularly during winter, it can throw off our internal clock or circadian rhythm, which can lead to SAD. The reduced level of sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal schedule, leading to feelings of depression.

Imbalance of Brain Chemicals

Sunlight affects the levels of certain chemicals in your brain that regulate your mood. Shorter days and less sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, a neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness, potentially triggering depression.

Melatonin Levels

The change in season can affect the balance of the body’s melatonin levels. Melatonin plays a role in sleep patterns and mood. Increased melatonin can increase sleepiness and lethargy, contributing to the symptoms of SAD.

Genetic Factors

Like other types of depression, there may be a genetic component to SAD. If you have family members with SAD or another form of depression, you may be more likely to experience it yourself.

Vitamin D Deficiency

Since Vitamin D is often known as the ‘sunshine vitamin,’ a lack of sunlight can lead to a deficiency in this vitamin. Vitamin D might play a role in serotonin activity and, therefore, influence mood.

Even in a city like Melbourne, with its mild winters and variable weather patterns, these factors can still affect the mental health of susceptible individuals, potentially leading to Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Here’s how to treat seasonal depressive episodes and other mental health conditions created by gloomy weather:

Light Therapy

Light therapy is often a first-line treatment for depressive symptoms of SAD, especially when it’s related to the winter season.

It involves sitting near a light box that emits a bright light (much brighter than normal indoor lighting) for usually about 30 minutes a day, typically in the morning.

Light therapy aims to mimic natural sunlight and can begin to improve symptoms within a few days or weeks.

Psychotherapy (Sometimes Called Talk Therapy)

Talking therapies like cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can be effective in treating SAD.

CBT helps individuals identify and alter negative thought patterns and behaviours that might be making them feel worse, and it can teach them ways to cope with SAD and manage stress more efficiently.


If symptoms are severe, antidepressant medications, particularly those that increase serotonin levels, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), might be prescribed.

Medication can sometimes take a few weeks to take full effect, and it’s important to discuss any potential side effects with a healthcare provider.

Vitamin D Supplementation

If blood tests show a vitamin D deficiency, a healthcare provider might recommend a vitamin D supplement.

However, more research is needed to understand how effective vitamin D supplementation is for treating SAD.


Regular physical activity is beneficial for managing symptoms of depression, including SAD.

Exercise can help relieve stress, boost your mood, and improve your physical well-being, which can collectively help mitigate the effects of SAD.

Sunlight Exposure

Making a conscious effort to get outside during daylight hours, even for a short time each day, can be beneficial. Sunlight can help improve mood and increase levels of Vitamin D.

Regular Sleep Schedule

Maintaining a consistent sleeping pattern can help regulate your internal clock and reduce the symptoms of SAD. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day aids in this process.

Healthy Diet

Eating a well-balanced diet can help provide more energy and counteract the weight gain that can accompany SAD. Focus on including plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains in your diet.

For those in Melbourne, taking advantage of the sunny days by being outdoors can be particularly effective, as well as establishing routines that promote a healthy lifestyle throughout the year to combat the effects of the city’s variable weather on their mental health.

Get Mental Health Therapy in Melbourne

If you find yourself struggling with the changing seasons and the moods that come with them, remember that you’re not alone.

At Counselling in Melbourne, our team of qualified psychologists and counsellors are dedicated to helping you cope with the challenges that come with SAD or any other mental health concerns.

We offer a range of services, including major depression and anxiety counselling, relationship counselling, and much more, tailored to help you regain your confidence, clarity, and well-being.

Take control of your mental health today by reaching out to us. With locations in the Melbourne CBD and Glen Waverley, plus the option of online appointments, getting the support you need has never been easier.

Book your appointment online or call us at 1300 967 734. It’s time to re-discover the real you and enjoy life, regardless of the weather outside.

Please note that the information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and should not substitute professional medical or mental health advice. If you or someone you know is in immediate distress or needs assistance, please reach out to a mental health professional or helpline in your country or state.

About the editor, Amelia Cambrell

My name is Amelia and I'm a Senior Psychologist at Counselling in Melbourne. I have over 18-years of experience in the mental health space. I am very driven to get the best outcomes for my clients which can be long lasting by using a range of modalities such as CBT. There is nothing more satisfying than helping adolescents, adults and couples who are feeling confused, frustrated, stuck or overwhelmed, to find more clarity, confidence and happiness in their lives.

Find out more about Amelia Cambrell

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