Seasonal Affective Disorder SAD is characterised by recurrent depressive episodes occurring during (mainly) the winter months. Patients may also experience symptoms of mania and hypomania during episodes of SAD, although this is more rare.
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 and this is known as seasonal affective disorder.
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. It is thought as many as 30%1 people are particularly sensitive to low light levels, which can result in SAD.
Seasonal affective disorder is most commonly associated with the winter months, however some sufferers develop low moods at the onset of summer.
SAD appears to develop due to reactions to the amount of light available. Reduced light levels has an effect on the brain in terms of:
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People with seasonal affective disorder will experience the onset of a lowering of mood around October, with symptoms that last until about March.
Not everyone experiences severe symptoms, there are thoughts that SAD is like a spectrum – some people will get very ill and won’t be able to do the things they normally do, whilst others will have less severe symptoms but feel more tired, moody and want to withdraw a bit more.
Below are some of the common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.
It is important to obtain a proper diagnosis for seasonal affective disorder to rule out other forms of depression or health issues.
Once seasonal affective disorder is diagnosed, treatments can involve medication, talking therapies and light therapy.
One recent study found that patients who had light therapy and CBT were more likely to have full remission from their symptoms than light therapy or CBT alone3.
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