Seasonal Affective Disorder: More Than the Winter Blues
By: Ellie Bezant (@EllieBezant)
Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as and abbreviated to SAD) is a form of depression that comes and goes with the changes of the seasons. It is often called 'winter depression' because the symptoms of SAD tend to be more severe during the months of December, January, and February when the days are shorter, and there is less sunlight. According to the NHS, this disorder affects approximately 1 in 15 people in the UK during the autumn and winter months. Nevertheless, this statistic changes when spring and summer rolls around and SAD sufferers frequently feel their symptoms gradually improve or disappear. Less commonly, however, some people might experience depressive symptoms in the brighter seasons.
So you feel a bit sad, everyone has those days, right? Wrong. For many the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can be so severe that there is a significantly negative impact on their day-to-day activities, as with clinical depression. The symptoms include persistent low moods, feelings of despair, anxiety and worthlessness, often causing low self-esteem, a lack of concentration, tearfulness, irritability and a loss of interest in everyday events.
The exact cause of SAD is unknown, but it is thought to have a link to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which is affected by a lack of sunlight. It is also possible that some people are more likely to suffer from SAD as a result of their genes, but the leading theory is generally to do with the mind. As a consequence of this, melatonin (a hormone that regulates your sleep) is produced at higher levels than normal, serotonin (a hormone that affects your mood) is at lower levels than normal and your body's internal clock, which uses sunlight to control different functions such as sleeping, may be disrupted.
On a more positive note, there are a range of treatments available for SAD sufferers, from antidepressant medications and light therapies (where lamps called light boxes provide exposure to sunlight) to making a conscious effort to get as much natural sunlight as possible and taking care of your wellbeing as a whole.
Lastly, as some final words of wisdom, know that you are not alone. I can tell you from experience that you will feel like you are stuck in a never-ending pattern of grief and guilt, but it does get better. It really does. And you will make it through those, if you're like me, dull and dark winter months. Just hang in there. The sun is shining on the other side.