Written by: Shani Fowler
What is Winter Depression or SAD?
Winter depression is an illness suffered by many and it’s seriousness is often quite understated. It sounds like it might be as simple as being a bit upset that the mince pies and Christmas puddings are over with and now the dreaded tackling of the muffin top must start. SAD can be a serious condition which requires treatment. SAD is a type of depression which is thought to be caused by the shortening of the daylight throughout the winter and our lack of exposure to this natural daylight. It is thought that the sleep-wake cycle disturbance causes SAD. Receiving less sunlight alters melatonin hormone levels and this can affect the mood. The condition is predominantly suffered by women, accounting for approximately 75% of reported cases.
What are the symptoms of this condition?
People suffering from this condition can suffer a range of unpleasant symptoms such as irritability, depression, anxiety and a lack of interest in social interaction. People can feel despondent, worthless and teary. People affected by SAD often oversleep (hypersomnia), and can suffer from lethargy and have difficulties in concentrating.
What treatments are available?
SAD should be treated in the same way as other depressive illnesses including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), medication, Counselling and also light therapy.
- CBT promotes the notion that the problems are down to you, and your reaction to a situation as opposed to the actual situation. CBT attempts to change how you think and thus will alter your behaviour. CBT can involve having a number of individually tailored sessions by a trained therapist, or participating in a group session with people in a similar situation, or even a computer based programme.
- Counselling is another way to try to alleviate the symptoms. This would involve talking to a trained Counsellor about worries and problems. There is also psychodynamic psychotherapy. In this therapy you are encouraged to discuss yourself and others and talk about the past. The aim being to ascertain whether there is anything in your past that affects how you feel today.
- Antidepressants prescribed by your GP can be used to treat SAD, following an appointment. However, antidepressants aren’t a magic wand as they don’t usually take immediate effect and can take four to six weeks to take full effect and they may have other side effects. Evidence suggests that antidepressants are more effective if taken at the start of winter before the actual onset of symptoms.
- Light Therapy is another effective treatment that can be used to help overcome them symptoms of SAD. This therapy involves sitting in front of or beneath a special lamp called a light box. These boxes produce very bright intense light simulating the sunlight which is missing through the winter. This light encourages your brain to produce the melatonin which for you, has been in short supply and thereby improves your mood. Light therapy may not be appropriate for people who suffer with eye problems or epilepsy. There is mixed evidence regarding the effectiveness of light therapy, however, studies show that it appears most effective if used first thing in the morning.
Other ways to overcome SAD
Other things can possibly help as they do with any depression. Eating better, drinking less alcohol, speaking to people about how you feel; or simply getting out and going for a walk.
People who have never suffered from depression are very lucky indeed; it can feel like a debilitating black hole, one which becomes ever harder to emerge from. It is crucial to seek the correct help as soon as possible. Start by making an appointment with your GP and discuss the possible options available to you. There might be a combination of treatments that would suit you. There is nothing to be ashamed of, and doctors usually have a lot of sympathy and patience with such conditions. Just because you can’t see a mind doesn’t mean it can’t get poorly from time to time. The only shame would be not to seek any help and suffer an unnecessarily miserable winter.