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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Many of you have probably heard of the term Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) before but this blog will hopefully add to the knowledge you already have.

Firstly it is no longer referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The term has been replaced by Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) with seasonal pattern. It is a psychological condition that results in depression, normally provoked by seasonal change. Most of us are affected by the change in seasons – it is normal to feel more cheerful and energetic when the sun is shining and the days are longer, or to find that you eat more or sleep longer in winter. However, if you experience this condition, the change in seasons will have a much greater effect on your mood and energy levels, and lead to symptoms of depression that may have a significant impact on your day-to-day life. You may struggle to cope with life, work and everyday tasks.

According to research commissioned by The Weather Channel and YouGov, MDD with seasonal pattern affects 8% of the UK population and women are 40% more likely than men to experience the condition.

Most people experience MDD with seasonal pattern during the winter months although it is interesting to note that some people find they experience it in reverse – with depressive symptoms occurring in summer months.

The exact cause of MDD with seasonal pattern is unknown. Contributing factors can vary from person to person however country's with long winter nights are less sunlight are more likely to experience the condition - suggesting that light is thought to heavily influence the condition. One thought is that decreased sunlight exposure affects the natural biological clock that regulates hormones, sleep and moods. Another theory is that light-dependent brain chemicals are more greatly affected in those with the condition.

In the UK, you may start to get MDD with seasonal pattern symptoms between September and November and they may continue until March, April or May the following year. If you experience symptoms in reverse, they may begin around March and continue into the autumn.

Symptoms of wintertime MMD includes:

  • Daily fatigue

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Feelings of hopelessness

  • Increased irritability

  • Lack of interest in social activities

  • Lethargy

  • Reduced sexual interest

  • Unhappiness

  • Weight gain

Symptoms of summertime MMD includes:

  • Agitation

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Increased restlessness

  • Lack of appetite

  • Weight loss

Both forms of MMD with seasonal pattern can be treated with counselling and/or medication. St John’s wort is a popular herbal remedy that some people find helpful to deal with mild or moderate symptoms. However it may not be suitable for severe symptoms or if you are taking prescription antidepressants so seek advice from your GP or pharmacist first. Healthy lifestyle habits can also help minimise symptoms. These can include:

  • Healthy diet with lean protein, fruits and vegetables

  • Exercise

  • Regular sleep

For wintertime MDD there is also the option of light therapy or a dawn simulator. Light therapy involves using a specialised light box or visor for at least 30 minutes each day to replicate natural light and a dawn simulator uses a timer-activated light to mimic the sunrise, which helps to stimulate the body clock.


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