Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Winter for many is the most wonderful time of the year.  However, for many others Winter represents dreary weather, dull days and grey skies. Winter can be a difficult and somewhat depressing time for people, and this is attributed to a number of factors:

  • Short days, and the cold weather
  • Anti-climax following Christmas celebrations
  • New year’s resolutions being broken and along with this the hope for change fading
  • Debts from Christmas and January sales catching up
  • Other financial pressures

Winter Blues is one thing, however for there is a far more severe form of the winter blues.  This is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

This is a form of depression that is affected by the seasons, and is estimated to affect half a million people every winter.

It is thought to be caused by the lack of sunlight causing a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus in the brain. Symptoms specific to SAD may include:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having low energy
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

The specific cause of SAD remains mostly unknown.  However there might be a number of contributing factors such as Serotonin levels: a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role.

Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that therefore might trigger depression. Melatonin levels: the change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

As with depression, the severity of SAD symptoms can vary from person to person – often depending on genetic vulnerability and geographic location.

For many, the symptoms usually begin mildly at the start of Winter and get progressively worse through the darkest days.  Then, by spring or early summer, the symptoms lift until the sufferer is in remission and feel normal and healthy again.

To be clinically diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, you need to have experienced these cyclical symptoms for two or more consecutive years. Regardless of the timing or persistence of your symptoms, if your depression feels overwhelming and is adversely affecting your life, it’s time to seek help.

If your organisation has an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) in-place, you will be eligible to access EAP support. An EAP is accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, it is free to the service-user and the service is totally confidential. Qualified Counsellors are on-hand to offer psychological and emotional support.

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