Exeter, Devon UK • Apr 18, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Lifestyle Am I sad or do I have SAD?

Am I sad or do I have SAD?

5 mins read
Written by

Am I sad or do I have SAD?

As winter prevails, Courtney Priday discusses how these cold months can affect our mood

Making the distinction between mental illness and mental wellbeing and how we can support each other.

Seasonal Affective Disorder commonly known as “SAD” or “the winter depression” is a form of depression in which sufferers experience symptoms in correlation to the change in seasons. In 2014 a report was published suggesting at least 29% of people in Britain suffered from SAD in the winter but due to the nature of the disorder it takes time to diagnose. The symptoms can sound all too familiar to many of at this time of year but we must be mindful of the making generalisations between SAD and the odd feeling of winter blues.

sufferers experience symptoms in correlation to the change in seasons

SAD is most commonly diagnosed after GPs have observed patterns in the symptoms of sufferers for at least two years. The disorder is characterised by bouts of depression followed by periods without. Like many forms of depression symptoms include:

  • Feeling unsocial and unmotivated to continue with daily tasks.
  • Feeling stressed or anxious.
  • Feeling worthless, guilty or irritable.

But unlike most common forms of depression SAD is also characterised by feelings of lethargy and being particularly tired during the day. This is currently thought to be caused by a disruption to our circadian rhythms in the darker winter months. It is believed that SAD is caused by an increase in the production of melatonin, which helps us sleep and a decrease in the production of serotonin, which has been linked to affecting mood. As a result, treatments recommended by the NHS currently include talking therapies used for other forms of depression, such as cognitive behavioural therapy and counselling as well as prescription of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) in severe cases.

SAD is also characterised by feelings of lethargy and being particularly tired during the day

At the moment there is not enough evidence supporting the benefits of light therapy for SAD sufferers to make funding available however this is a treatment that can also be recommended by your doctor. Light therapy involves sitting by a lightbox which produces a bright light simulating the sun. This is thought to alleviate symptoms because it encourages the brain to increase the production of serotonin and decrease the production of melatonin, therefore restoring the circadian rhythm experienced in the summer months and improving mood. Despite the lack of research into light therapy as a treatment for SAD sufferers many users describe an alleviation of symptoms when using light boxes for 30-60 minutes every morning, suggesting potential for more research into its affects. However, these symptoms then return in the following year so treatment must be continual through each winter season and this does not account for those who experience periods of depression during the summer months.

So those are the facts, but how do we cope in these harsher winter months and grapple with these symptoms?

Over the past few years dialogue has opened up around SAD even though the term itself has been used since 1984. As with much of the conversation around mental health there is often confusion around diagnosed mental health illness and symptoms many of us can experience without actually living with the illness. This is often misrepresented in the media as a point of general wellbeing that can be improved alone but SAD is a very real form of depression that should be regarded with care. There are many benefits to making active choices to improve your mental wellbeing, but presentation of SAD in the winter months as a vehicle to encourage general wellbeing is a slippery slope. If you identify with some of the issues and symptoms discussed in this article self-care such as mindfulness and working on communication can be beneficial. For all of us these are often particularly necessary during the winter months as our routines become less social and we wind down for the year. However, this should not be confused with the experiences of those who suffer with SAD and if you feel these patterns and feelings are impacting your life I sincerely encourage you to speak to your GP, either for clarification or treatment.

self-care such as mindfulness and working on communication can be beneficial

Not everyone with a mental health illness feels comfortable receiving a diagnosis but for some having a label enables them to communicate about their experiences so we must be careful to use this language properly and support those around us who find this time of year particularly challenging.

You may also like

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign Up for Our Newsletter