Dr Heather Dyson
Seasonal Affective Disorder?
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The changing of the seasons can often affe
ct our moods, for better or for worse. For many, the winter months can leave them feeling a bit low and struggling to find the same motivation they have during the brighter summer months. But for some, this can worsen and lead to a consistently low mood and can start to have a negative impact on your life. If you find that you experience depression at certain times of year, you may be given a diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder or seasonal depression. There are a number of links at the end of this blog post, that can signpost you on to find out more.
But what does this mean? How can you recognise the signs and get the appropriate help? In this blog, I’ll look at the symptoms of winter seasonal affective disorder and what your next steps could be in order to combat this, often debilitating, condition.
What are the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
The symptoms of seasonal depression will vary from person to person and, as ever, if you’re not sure, you should speak to your doctor. Most people with SAD will experience some or all of the following symptoms:
Consistently low mood. This means feeling sad, tearful, hopeless or having a generally low mood for most of the day and nearly every day.
An inability to feel joy or pleasure in activities you normally find enjoyable. This is sometimes called ‘anhedonia’ by mental health professionals.
Being low on energy and finding it difficult to motivate yourself.
Changes in your appetite or weight. This could be eating more or less or a change in your eating habits.
An inability to concentrate.
Social isolation. You may not want to go out and see friends or family and may want to withdraw from the world.
A loss of interest in sex or physical contact.
Having suicidal thoughts or feelings.
Changes to your sleep patterns. You might be sleeping more or less or may experience problems falling asleep or waking up in the morning.
These are just some examples of the symptoms of SAD and if you are experiencing these signs, there are some things you can put in place to help yourself.
How do I get help for SAD?
The most important thing to do is to ask for help. If you’ve been experiencing the symptoms above, then you should speak to your GP or a mental health professional. There are a range of different treatments for SAD and they will be able to advise you on which one will be best for you.
Some people may benefit from changes in their lifestyle, such as an exercise regime. The benefits and mood-boosting advantages of exercise for mild depression and other mental health issues have been well-documented. Other lifestyle changes, such as trying to get as much sunlight as possible, getting fresh air and eating a balanced diet can also help alleviate some of the symptoms.
Talking therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or Psychodynamic Therapy can also be helpful as a way to talk through your problems with an impartial yet compassionate professional. For more on talking therapies, you can see my blog post here.
Light boxes are also another element of treatment for SAD. A light box mimics the light from the sun by replicating the full spectrum of colours that the sun creates (although we see this as a white light). This affects the chemical and hormone levels in your body, which can improve your mood. During light therapy, you sit in front of the light box or lamp for a certain amount of time each day, to reproduce the effects of natural sunlight and, hopefully, ease some of the symptoms.
Sometimes your doctor might also suggest antidepressant medication but this will be up to you and your doctor to decide.
For more on the treatment of #SAD, there is this article on the NHS website, which outlines all of the treatment options available. Seasonal Affective Disorder can be debilitating for those who are suffering with it but there is help out there and hopefully, you can soon find some respite and relief from the symptoms. For more information, there are some helpful articles on the MIND website and here on the website for the Royal College of Psychiatrists.