Seasonal Affective Disorder

It’s that time of year when the days seem shorter and it’s likely to be dark both before, and after you get home from school, college or work. With the weather so dreary, apart from the highlight of the jolly festive season, winter can be a miserable time for some of us.

You might be feeling depressed about your career, education, social life or perhaps you’re struggling to find any meaning from life in general. Or maybe you don’t know why you’re feeling so blue.

It’s perfectly normal to not feel as happy during the winter months as we all love the summer, but if you notice your moods are consistently taking a downward turn at this time of year then you could be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as the ‘winter blues’.

With an increasing number of young people feeling depressed, you’re not alone if you’re experiencing low moods. A report by the Prince’s Trust revealed that one in 10 16-25 year olds feel life is meaningless and more than a quarter often feel down or depressed.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, as many as 1 in 8 people in the UK experience a mild, low mood during winter, with symptoms including lethargy, craving for sugary foods and sleep problems. These symptoms will often start in people aged 18 – 30 and women are twice as likely to suffer as men.

What causes SAD?

Although doctors cannot be certain at this stage, it seems most likely that SAD is connected to the way that our bodies respond to daylight. Light stops our bodies from producing a hormone that makes us sleepy – when there is less light we produce more of this hormone and the resulting tiredness can have an effect on our moods.

What are the symptoms?

  • Depressed mood
  • Sleep problems
  • Lethargy
  • An increased appetite
  • Loss of concentration
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings

What can I do?

You should speak to your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of SAD. There are two main things that you can do to fight the winter blues.

The first is to get more sunlight; this might sound obvious but it’s all too easy to stay indoors, out of the cold and often wet weather. Try and get out in the daylight as much as possible and even sitting by a window during the day can be enough to lift your spirits. SAD sufferers should try and get up to four hours of very bright light each day during the winter months.

The other way to combat feeling low is to get at least three sessions of vigorous exercise each week. Even doing less strenuous exercise more frequently might be beneficial and if you exercise outdoors then you are combining two positive things into one activity!

Other things that you can do to lift your spirits are social interaction with friends and family and eating healthy foods. Getting involved locally is also thought to keep depression at bay, as feeling part of a community will give you a sense of belonging.

What if my symptoms are worse?

Around 1 in 100 people in the UK are thought to have full blown Seasonal Affective Disorder, which will cause symptoms of depression from as early as September through to early spring.

If you are worried that you might be suffering from SAD you should contact your GP and ask their advice, as they will be able to recommend the best treatment for you.