Seasonal Affective Disorder (more commonly known as SAD, sometimes called ‘winter depression’ or ‘winter blues’) is a very real condition that affects at least one in eight people in the UK in at least a minor way – yet an estimated 2% of the population has the most extreme form of the condition.
The mildest form is called subsyndromal SAD, and as the numbers suggest, it’s the most commonly encountered version. There are both genetic and geographic reasons as to why people are affected; the latest science seems to suggest that women are more likely than men to suffer from it, and there’s a greater chance of becoming afflicted the further you live from the equator. Significantly, the onset of the condition seems to appear in most people after the age of 30. If there’s a history of it in the family, chances are greater that you or your siblings will be affected by SAD.
Although the condition seems to have been recognised for at least a couple of centuries, Seasonal Affective Disorder has only been formally identified as an illness since the 1980s. For something so prevalent, it seems tricky to pin down exactly what the cause of the problem is.
Essentially, SAD is a mood disorder that’s most commonly associated with depressive episodes, directly relating to seasonal variations in light. SAD can be very disabling for patients and is often overlooked, even by trained healthcare experts. The causes are not completely known, but it’s thought to relate to the hormone melatonin, which is produced in greater numbers during the dark. Lack of exposure to sunlight seems to have a direct relationship.
SAD season begins around September and usually ends in April, with January and February being the worst months. As well as depression, patients may also suffer from prolonged sleep and weight gain. A loss in appetite and libido, as well as feelings of irritability and tearfulness are all common.
If you think you might suffer from SAD, or perhaps you know someone who does, there are things you can do that will help. Keep a diary to record moods and map out when the symptoms begin and end. What are the symptoms, and how often do they occur? This will all be useful information to note down and aid successful diagnosis.
Simple solutions can really help. Spend more time outdoors – ideally, getting out as often as possible – as well as exercising; eating healthily and keeping active throughout the day are all things that can make a big difference. When working, make sure you do so in the brightest conditions, always making sure there’s lots of light.
There are methods of light therapy which involve sitting in front of very bright light for periods of time (30-60 minutes each day as a rule). Although this method has been demonstrated to work on about two thirds of all SAD patients, it can take many weeks to have an effect and is not currently available via the National Health Service.
The best therapy seems to be found by using support groups or attending counselling services – the vast majority of documented cases have been shown to improve the condition of patients who seek counselling and talk about their own issues. To find support groups or counselling and advice centres in your area, make use of a free business directory listings service like Directory Lists. A quick search using this online directory will show any relevant organisations in your town or city.