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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal Affective Disorder

With winter fast approaching we thought we would share some information about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is a type of depression that has a seasonal pattern. The episodes of depression tend to occur at the same time each year, usually during the winter. As with other types of depression, two of the main symptoms of SAD are a low mood and a lack of interest in life. Other symptoms of SAD include:

- being less active than normal

- sleeping more

- Read more information about the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

SAD is sometimes known as “winter depression” because the symptoms are more apparent and tend to be more severe at this time of the year. The symptoms often begin in the autumn as the days start getting shorter. They are most severe during December, January, and February. In most cases, the symptoms of SAD begin to improve in the spring before disappearing.

What causes SAD?

The exact cause of SAD is not fully understood, but it is thought to be linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter days of the year. Sunlight can affect some of the brain’s chemicals and hormones. However, it is not clear what this effect is. One theory is that light stimulates a part of the brain called the hypothalamus which controls mood, appetite, and sleep. These things can affect how you feel. In people with SAD, a lack of sunlight and a problem with certain brain chemicals stops the hypothalamus working properly. The lack of light is thought to affect:

- the production of the hormone melatonin

- the production of the hormone serotonin

- the body’s circadian rhythm (the body’s internal clock, which regulates several biological processes during a 24-hour period)

Diagnosing SAD

If you have the symptoms of SAD, visit your GP. They may carry out an assessment to check your mental health. You may be asked about your mood, lifestyle, eating and sleeping patterns and any seasonal changes in your thoughts and behaviour.

Treating SAD

As with any type of depression, SAD can be difficult to live with. It can make you feel tired, stressed, and unhappy. However, it can usually be successfully treated.

Light therapy is often used to treat SAD. It involves sitting in front of, or beneath, a light box. Light boxes produce a very bright light. They come in a variety of designs, including desk lamps and wall-mounted fixtures. Before using a light box to treat SAD, speak to your GP and check the manufacturer’s instructions.

Depending on the nature and severity of your symptoms, talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or medication such as antidepressants may also be recommended by your GP. They will recommend the most suitable treatment programme for you, which may involve using a combination of treatments.

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