What is seasonal affective disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression, which is more apparent during certain seasons. It is often referred to as “winter depression”, as symptoms can often be more severe during the winter months; however some people will find they suffer more during the summer than the winter, although this is less common. The weather can also be a contributing factor to SAD, with certain weather conditions making symptoms worse.
Many people will experience changes in their mood due to the changing seasons, such as feeling your energy levels drop or changes to your sleeping or eating patterns, which is very normal and common. However, if these changes begin to affect your day-to-day life and become a problem, it is advisable to seek advice from a GP who may diagnose depression. They may diagnose seasonal affective disorder if the symptoms appear worse during the same time each year.
What are the symptoms of SAD?
There are a number of symptoms, but you may not experience all of them. They can include:
- Changes in sleeping patterns, such as sleeping for longer and finding it hard to wake up
- Changes in eating patterns/appetite
- Feeling low for long periods of time
- Having a lack of energy (lethargy)
- Experiencing a lack of interest or enthusiasm in hobbies and pleasures
- Finding it hard to concentrate
- Experiencing memory problems
- A loss of interest in sex or other physical contact
- Feelings of isolation and not wanting to see other people
- Feeling low in mood, sad and/or tearful
- Experiencing feelings of guilt
It’s normal to feel any of these symptoms from time-to-time with the usual stresses of day-to-day life, however if you feel that you experience a number of these symptoms for a long period of time, speak to a GP.
Can SAD be treated?
SAD is treatable, with mild to moderate cases being treated without the need for medication; more severe cases may need medication. A GP will discuss with you which is the best option.
Other treatments that may be prescribed include:
- Talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – you can find out more about this on our website using the link at the side of the page.
- Light therapy / light boxes – these are recommended to be used for up to an hour a day, whilst continuing with your usual tasks such as reading, working, watching TV, etc. The light emitted is meant to replicate some of the natural sunlight missed during the winter months.
- Exercise – physical health is vital for mental wellbeing. You can read more about the importance of physical health, as well as suggestions for exercises, on this website using the link at the side of the page.
Some things that you could try yourself to improve your wellbeing are to make small, healthy changes to your diet, as well as getting as much natural sunlight as possible.