In the fourth blog for Mental Health Awareness Week we are looking at the issue of seasonal affective disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is more than just a case of the winter blues. It is actually a type of mental health disorder — a type of depression that is caused by the changing seasons.

It is most common for people with SAD to start experiencing their symptoms at the start of the autumn and it continues through the winter. There are numerous symptoms of SAD and they include day long depression, low energy, sleeping problems, weight & appetite changes, lack of concentration, irritability and feelings of guilt and worthlessness.

The darker, colder winter months often make people feel a bit down, but sufferers of SAD have specific seasonal-related symptoms. Autumn and winter SAD sufferers often crave carb-rich foods and so weight gain is inevitable. Spring and summer SAD is less common and has its own specific symptoms including loss of appetite, inability to sleep, and weight loss. These symptoms are the opposite to the winter form of SAD but are just as relevant. SAD sufferers can also suffer from other mental health issues such as substance abuse, anxiety disorder, and social or work-related problems.

Like all other forms of anxiety and depression, there is treatment for SAD as follows:

Sad girl on her bed
  • The most common form of treatment is light therapy. This is simple and effective. A sufferer uses a special light box that they expose themselves to each day, generally when they first wake up. It enhances the mood as the brain processes it as natural light and this helps to lift the depression. It is the most effective treatment for SAD.
  • Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, is also an option. Many people with SAD benefit from talking to a counsellor or psychotherapist with expertise in SAD.
  • SAD sufferers with more severe symptoms may benefit from medication. They need to consult their GP who may prescribe antidepressants or some other form of medication.
  • Exercise is of great benefit for mental health problems including SAD. Sufferers must ensure they get sufficient exercise each day, preferably outside in the fresh air.

It is important to realise that SAD is not simply a form of moodiness — it is an actual depression that requires understanding, awareness and appropriate treatment and support.