SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) - what really is the 'winter blues'?

It is a known fact that the winter months can affect our mood, for better or worse. But are we experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder, or have we just got a case of the ‘winter blues’? 

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression which is affected by the change in seasons; it is more commonly known as ‘Winter Depression’ because the majority of those diagnosed with SAD experience their symptoms during the winter season (from September to as late as April). 

SAD is a medically recognised disorder and can vary in seriousness from person to person. It is estimated that around 6% of people diagnosed with this disorder experience symptoms so severe that they could not continue with their day-to-day life. However, the majority of people across the globe experience some form of SAD in the winter months. It is scientifically proven that a lack of sunlight, dull weather and shorter hours (daylight savings) causes a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes symptoms of SAD. 

Before continuing, it is important to note that it is common for the dull weather and lack of sunlight to dampen your mood, and many people may suffer from a mild version of SAD. However, diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder is when your mood is so low that you are unable to continue with aspects of your daily life due to the symptoms listed below.  

What are the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

According to the NHS, the symptoms of SAD are as follows:

  1. A persistent low mood
  2. A loss of motivation or interest in everyday activities
  3. Low self-esteem
  4. Feeling irritable, stressed or anxious
  5. A reduced sex drive
  6. Becoming less sociable
  7. Feeling lethargic 
  8. Sleeping for longer than normal, or finding it harder to wake up in the mornings

If you experience these symptoms and notice a persistent change in mood during the winter months, you could be experiencing SAD and you should contact your GP for further advice. 

It is important to note that it is very difficult to diagnose this disorder as it can take a long time to examine and there are many other forms of depression with the same, or similar, symptoms. 

How can it be treated?

For diagnosed SAD, you may be prescribed certain medication to alleviate your symptoms (such as antidepressants or CBT). Some scientists also suggest therapy or, more specifically, Light Therapy (where you sit under an artificial light source for 30 minutes to an hour each day).

At-home treatments of SAD (not medically prescribed by a doctor) can be:

  • Regular exercise – fresh air is super important!
  • Especially since most people are working-from-home, try and make your bedroom and workspaces as light and airy as possible: sit next to an open window, decorate your room with lights and make sure it’s nice and clean!
  • Some people find sun light alarm clocks really useful!
  • You’ve heard it too many times before but, eat a balanced and healthy diet! I promise it will be worth it. 

For more symptoms and advice, please read more on the NHS website or contact your GP: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/

You are not alone! There are so many people who are available to help you:

Information taken from the NHS website: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-health-helplines/

Anxiety UK

Charity providing support if you have been diagnosed with an anxiety condition.

Phone: 03444 775 774 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5.30pm)

Website: www.anxietyuk.org.uk

Bipolar UK

A charity helping people living with manic depression or bipolar disorder.

Website: www.bipolaruk.org.uk

CALM

CALM is the Campaign Against Living Miserably. A charity providing a mental health helpline and webchat.

Phone: 0800 58 58 58 (daily, 5pm to midnight)

Website: www.thecalmzone.net

Men's Health Forum

24/7 stress support for men by text, chat and email.

Website: www.menshealthforum.org.uk

Mental Health Foundation

Provides information and support for anyone with mental health problems or learning disabilities.

Website: www.mentalhealth.org.uk

Mind

Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.

Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)

Website: www.mind.org.uk

No Panic

Voluntary charity offering support for sufferers of panic attacks and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Offers a course to help overcome your phobia or OCD.

Phone: 0844 967 4848 (daily, 10am to 10pm). Calls cost 5p per minute plus your phone provider's Access Charge

Website: www.nopanic.org.uk

OCD Action

Support for people with OCD. Includes information on treatment and online resources.

Phone: 0845 390 6232 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5pm). Calls cost 5p per minute plus your phone provider's Access Charge

Website: www.ocdaction.org.uk

OCD UK

A charity run by people with OCD, for people with OCD. Includes facts, news and treatments.

Phone: 0333 212 7890 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)

Website: www.ocduk.org

PAPYRUS

Young suicide prevention society.

Phone: HOPElineUK 0800 068 4141 (9am to midnight, every day of the year)

Website: www.papyrus-uk.org

Rethink Mental Illness

Support and advice for people living with mental illness.

Phone: 0300 5000 927 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4pm)

Website: www.rethink.org

Samaritans

Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.

Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)

Website: www.samaritans.org.uk

SANE

Emotional support, information and guidance for people affected by mental illness, their families and carers. 

Textcare: comfort and care via text message, sent when the person needs it most: www.sane.org.uk/textcare

Peer support forum: www.sane.org.uk/supportforum

Website: www.sane.org.uk/support

YoungMinds

Information on child and adolescent mental health. Services for parents and professionals.

Phone: Parents' helpline 0808 802 5544 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4pm)

Website: www.youngminds.org.uk