As summer draws to a close and the clocks go back, it can be a rather disheartening time for most of us, but for those suffering from SAD this time can be particularly frightening, as it can mean the unwanted return of a very real condition. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression, characterized by changes in mood and symptoms which are affected by changes in the season. It is thought to derive from a lack of sunlight, which may cause a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus from working as it should – meaning that the production of certain hormones is significantly reduced or increased, subsequently affecting mood.
Most people who suffer from SAD experience symptoms from about the start of October through to the end of February each year, but everyone’s experience is likely to be different – and can change on a yearly basis for a number of reasons. It is not unheard of for people to experience the symptoms of SAD only once in their lifetime, however it is far more common for the disorder to persist for several years, and quite often is left undiagnosed, for the most part due to a lack of awareness.
Andrew, aged 51, suffers from SAD, and shared his experiences of the disorder: “For me, I find that it is not the cold weather, but the lack of sunlight that affects my mood, and it seems to creep up on me slowly as the seasons change. One way I’ve found to cope with my disorder over the years is to ensure that I always have a winter holiday booked to somewhere sunny; which helps me to feel less anxious during this period.” As is common with Seasonal Affective Disorder, Andrew also suffers from mild depressive disorder and spouts of anxiety, which he finds are heightened as the seasons change and days become shorter and darker.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is particularly common among people who live in climes that are darker, or where there is less sunlight – such as the North Pole – hence it is more common in these countries, however differences in individual sensitivity to light mean that it is a widespread disorder. Despite this, knowledge and understanding of SAD is limited, and so it is likely that many people suffer from this disorder without necessarily being aware of it. And, because it is seasonally-dependent, it is likely that many people suffer on a yearly basis without seeking help, as depressive episodes will tend to go away naturally after a few months. However, while symptoms may seem to have faded, SAD often comes back, so it is always worth seeking help in order to help alleviate or prevent future episodes.
Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder can be tricky, as obviously the weather is something that is completely out of one’s control, and for most migrating to sunnier climes or going on holiday over the winter months is simply not an option. There are some treatments, however, which can be effective. In some cases, simple changes to one’s lifestyle can be enough to notice a difference, such as being exposed to more natural sunlight, exercising regularly and managing stress levels. For more severe cases however, traditional face-to-face or equivalent online therapies are usually advised, as these aim to treat the causes and symptoms of SAD simultaneously.
Another treatment which has recently shown promising results is something called a light box, which is used to simulate sunlight and can be useful in elevating mood in some cases, however this is not necessarily effective for everyone. Sarah, who also suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder, notes that in her experience “only natural sunlight will do”; so light boxes are not an option for her. Everyone is different, so everyone’s experience is different, but it is important to remember that no one should suffer alone, and that seeking help usually has long-term benefits.
(All names used in this article have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals . If you think you may be suffering from symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, private online therapy sessions are available to book through the Dr Julian App – with plenty of specialists trained to deal with this disorder.)
Source: Dr julian