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What is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

We all feel a little more tired when the dark nights draw in and many of us feel like ‘hibernating’ but for some people the changing seasons can have a serious effect on their moods.

It is thought that up to 30% people are particularly sensitive to low light levels, which can result in SAD. Women are much more likely to get seasonal affective disorder than men.

Short days, low levels of sunlight and winter grey skies deprive the brain of the light it needs; for some people this can have a serious effect on their mental wellbeing. Seasonal affective disorder is most commonly associated with the winter months, however some sufferers develop low moods at the onset of summer.

Causes of seasonal affective disorder:

Reduced light levels has an effect on the brain in terms of:

  • circadian rhythm (the body’s internal clock)
  • serotonin levels (serotonin is a chemical in the brain that is linked to feelings of happiness)
  • melatonin levels

Diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a relatively newly recognised psychiatric illness and because it has only recently been added to diagnostic manuals, the diagnosis is sometimes not made well and misdiagnosis is common.

This is a pity because SAD has some very interesting specific treatments which the research indicates are extremely effective if managed properly. These include the use of SAD lamps, SAD light boxes and light visors.

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder:

  • Irritability
  • Low energy
  • Tiredness and oversleeping
  • Hypersensitivity / sense of rejection
  • Heaviness in limbs
  • Weight gain, craving of certain food groups

Treatment for seasonal affective disorder:

It is important to obtain a proper diagnosis for this condition and rule out other forms of depression or health issues.

Once seasonal affective disorder is diagnosed treatment involves both counselling and light therapy.

Light therapy:
The treatment includes topping up on light exposure via high intensity light sources such as light boxes and light visors. The source and intensity of the light needs to be carefully managed which is why this disorder and its treatment should be supervised by a specialist who has training and experience with it. For example the timing of the light exposure appears to be crucial, and there is some evidence that using high intensity lights at dawn appears more helpful than at other times of the day.

Psychotherapy and counselling is undertaken to help the individual relax, reduce anxiety and cope with the illness moving forward.

How can we help?

Clinical Partners have a team of psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists who are experienced in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of seasonal affective disorder and they will be able to offer full support and advice for you and your family.

Please call 0203 326 9160 to speak to one of our clinical advisors about how we can help treat your seasonal affective disorder.

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