Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects around 2 million people in the UK and can make the winter months especially difficult. Here are some of the signs you need to watch out for
As the winter months approach and the days continue to get shorter, many of us are already longing for spring and summer to return and bring some sunshine to our otherwise dreary days. But for around 2 million Brits, winter is made even more difficult by the onset of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression that people experience during certain seasons or times of year.
Sometimes referred to as “winter depression” or “the winter blues,” SAD is usually more apparent and more severe during the colder months, although some people may find that their symptoms actually improve in the winter and worsen during the summer. The exact cause of SAD is not fully understood, but there are warning signs you can watch for that may suggest you are experiencing a common mental health problem.
According to mental health charity Mind, there are 12 main symptoms of SAD that you can look out for when assessing your own health and the way you feel during winter. These include symptoms such as a general lack of energy or anxiety, as well as difficulty concentrating and loss of interest in sex.
Top 12 signs of SAD:
- Lack of energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty being social
- Feeling sad, depressed, tearful, guilty, or hopeless
- Feeling anxious or angry
- Be more prone to colds, infections, or other illnesses
- Sleeping too much or having difficulty waking up
- Sleeping too little or waking up a lot
- Changes in appetite
- Losing interest in sex
- Lack of human physical touch
- Symptoms of depression
According to the NHS, you may also be experiencing SAD if you have a distinct craving for carbohydrates and are gaining weight as a result. The NHS also lists many of the same symptoms as Mind and recommends you contact your GP if you believe you have SAD and are “struggling to cope”. On their website they state: “Your GP can carry out an assessment to check your mental health. They may ask about your mood, lifestyle, eating habits and sleeping patterns, as well as any seasonal changes in your thoughts and behavior.”
The exact cause of SAD is not known, but the NHS reports that it is often associated with reduced exposure to sunlight during winter, as it is thought this can prevent a part of the brain called the hypothalamus from functioning properly. The theory is that this can have an indirect effect on things including the production of serotonin – which affects your mood and appetite – as well as melatonin, which is the hormone that makes you sleepy.
Treatments for SAD vary from person to person, but the NHS states that the main treatments include talking therapies such as counselling, lifestyle changes such as exercise and getting as much natural sunlight as possible, and light therapy, which involves a special lamp known as a light box that simulates exposure to sunlight.
If you believe you are experiencing SAD and would like further guidance, you can contact the Mind infoline by email at email@example.com or by calling 0300 123 3393. You may also find other organizations helpful such as CALM , who can be contacted via the website or by calling 0800 58 58 58, or by Samaritans, who can be contacted by calling 116 123.
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