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Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Most of us are undoubtedly affected in some way by long, dark, cold nights or extreme warm weather. We might notice a change in our mood, sleep or eating patterns, however, when these feelings start to interfere with day-to-day activities, and you see a pattern with the time of year then it may need to be considered as something more serious. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is experienced during certain seasons/times of the year or weather conditions. It is often known as ‘winter depression’ as the symptoms are typically more severe in winter.


Symptoms of SAD:


· A persistent low mood

· Difficulty concentrating

· A loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities

· Irritability

· Feeling sad, low, tearful, guilty or hopeless

· More prone to physical health problems, such as colds, infections or other illnesses

· Feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness

· Feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day

· Sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning

· Craving carbohydrates and gaining weight


Scientists are yet to fully understand the exact cause of SAD, but research suggests that it is associated with reduced exposure to sunlight during the darker winter nights. Sunlight consists of vitamin D which plays an important role in our health and wellbeing. There are several vitamin D receptors in our hypothalamus (a small region at the base of the brain, playing a crucial role in many important functions, importantly, the control and release of hormones.) So, people with SAD who may lack vitamin D from sunlight can exhibit an alteration in the functioning of the hypothalamus which can affect:


- A significant increase in the production of melatonin (a hormone that makes you feel sleepy)

- Reduced production of serotonin (a hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep). Research suggests that low levels of vitamin D, are related to major depression and mood disorders

- Disrupt the body's internal clock (circadian rhythm) – sunlight is used to schedule important bodily functions, so lower light levels may disrupt the body clock and lead to symptoms of SAD


Treating SAD

· Lifestyle changes – trying to get as much natural sunlight as possible

· Regular exercise and stress management

· Light therapy – light boxes are special lamps that are used to simulate exposure to sunlight

· Talking therapy – cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or counselling/therapy

· Ecotherapy – nature-based treatment

· Medication – antidepressants, e.g selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)


Myths about SAD


Like with any mental illness, seeking appropriate treatment and support requires a complete understanding of the condition. There are several myths and misunderstandings that might mean some people do not recognize that they are suffering from this illness.


1. MYTH SAD only occurs in winter

FACT SAD can occur in spring/summer, but this is rare


2. MYTH Light therapy is always effective

FACT Light boxes can be an effective treatment, but they don’t work for everyone


3. MYTH SAD only affects women

FACT SAD mostly affects women, but men also can suffer from it


4. MYTH SAD is a minor form of depression

FACT SAD is a major form of depression


Disclaimer: All facts within this blog have come from trusted sources (NHS, Mind) For further information and signposting for support please visit www.nhs.uk or mind.org.uk

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