Spotlight On...Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D)
What is it?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mental health condition associated with the winter months. It has a lot in common with depression, with the main symptoms including:
Lack of interest and enjoyment in life
Being less sociable
Being more irritable
Less interest in sex
Sleeping and eating more
It can be hard to get up in the morning during winter, and the sleepiness can carry on all day. You might crave foods like chocolate and carbohydrates and might put weight on.
It gets better in the spring and many people have periods of greater energy.
How is it different to other mental health conditions?
Whilst SAD shares a lot in common with depression, there are some key differences. The first, most obvious one, is the timing. It means mood and energy significantly dip in the winter, and lift again in Spring.
Secondly, it tends to involve greater fatigue and an increased appetite, whereas depression can involve these, but also can mean people struggle to get to or stay asleep, and lose their appetite.
Who does it effect?
SAD is most common in women during the years when they can have children (lucky us), it is 3x more likely to affect women than men and is less common in children and older adults.
In the UK about 3 people in every hundred have significant winter depressions.
How can it be treated?
Self-care – Key elements of this are:
Daylight – get outside as much as possible or sit near a window, even if it’s a gloomy day
Be kind - if you are eating more and putting on weight try and remind yourself that you are following powerful physical urges, and in many ways doing just what your body needs. This can be particularly hard if you struggle with your weight and body image. Young Minds has a good lot of resources to help.
Talk to those around you – if you are sleepy and irritable it is bound to affect your relationships – ask for help if you’re struggling to get things done and explain as much as you can about how you are feeling. If you can’t talk to those around you try online support like Mind’s Side by Side project
Light therapy – If these self-care steps don’t work you can try a light box - www.sad.co.uk has a lot of information about the different kinds and which one would work for you. Make sure any product you chose has a CE safety certification and check for any alerts, for example if you have epilepsy or migraines.
Medication – like other kinds of depression, if SAD is affective your ability to go about your daily life, usually SSRIs like Sertraline, Fluoxetine or Citalopram. They are usually started in autumn and stopped in spring.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – there is some evidence CBT can help with SAD as with other forms of depression and anxiety. This might be accessed through your GP, mental health team or First Step.
Where can I get help?
Happy Mums peer support group – not specifically for SAD but all mental health issues around having a baby
GP – ask your GP for help, either in accessing therapy like CBT or with medication
First Step – you can refer yourself to First Step in Carlisle, Eden, Allerdale and Copeland. You can do this online or by telephoning 0300 123 9122
NHS guide to the condition, and how to get help
Mind – information page about SAD
Royal College Psychiatrists – More in-depth information
Online peer support – from Mind – for all mental health conditions
Body image support – from the Mental Health Foundation
Eating disorder support – from Beat – they have a helpline on 0808 801 0711 and are open 365 days a year, 12-6pm Mon-Fri, 4-8pm weekends and bank holidays.