Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that affects people at different times of the year, usually in particular seasons. Most people are affected by the change in season; it’s normal to feel happier when the sun is out and the days are longer. However, for those that suffer from SAD the change has a much greater impact on their mood and it can significantly affect their day-to-day life.
Symptoms of SAD
There are many different signs that you might be experiencing SAD and you don’t need to be feeling all of them to be going through it. A doctor might diagnose you with SAD if you’re experiencing many of the symptoms below for 2 to 3 years of seasonal change. Symptoms include:
- Sleep problems – sleeping for longer than usual or not being able to sleep.
- Depression – feeling low, tearful, guilty and hopeless, despairing and sometimes simply feeling nothing.
- Anxiety – feeling tense and unable to cope with everyday
- Panic attacks
- Mood changes – bursts of hyperactivity and cheerfulness in spring and autumn
- Overeating – primarily ‘comfort eating’ or snacking more than usual.
- Prone to illness – sometimes SAD can lower your immune system during the colder months, making you more likely to pick up colds and infections.
- Loss of interest in any physical activity
- Social or relationship problems – not wanting to see people
- Drug or alcohol abuse
If you’re suffering from any of the above and think that you might be experiencing SAD, then there are a few self-help treatments you can follow which are outlined below. However, you should always seek advice from your GP before you make any changes to your lifestyle or take any new supplements.
- St John’s wort – a herbal remedy that is popular amongst people that suffer from mild symptoms of SAD. However, it might not be suitable if you’re using a light box as it can make your skin very sensitive to light. You also shouldn’t take it if you’re taking any antidepressants and should seek advice from a GP if you’re taking any other types of prescription medication.
- Bright light therapy – a light box is often used by SAD sufferers to increase their daily light exposure. In some cases, a structured course of light therapy set up by a professional can be more effective. This treatment is usually available on the NHS, but your local GP should be able to advise you about where you can go locally for this.
There are also some more vigorous treatment types that can be provided by a doctor such as:
- Talking treatments – speaking to a counsellor or having cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be useful in helping to manage SAD as they can help you understand what other factors might be contributing to your condition.
- Antidepressants – whilst they don’t cure SAD, they can help you cope better with the symptoms associated with it. They’re usually offered in extreme cases – be sure to speak to your GP about all of your options first.
- Specialist SAD services – if you need more support, your GP could refer you to a psychiatrist or a clinic which specialises in treating SAD. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get a referral to one of these clinics so you may have to wait a long time for an appointment.
If you find you’re struggling with SAD, or know someone that is, be sure to speak to friends and family to gain their support and speak to your local GP who will be able to give you a more accurate diagnosis of your condition and advise you on what you can do next.