Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that people experience at a particular time of year or during a particular season. It is commonly linked with the colder weather and shorter days of the winter months, rather than the peak of summer when the sun is shining and the days are longer.
But, much like the British weather, our mental health doesn’t follow strict or predictable rules; it’s possible to experience SAD at any time of the year.
Most of us experience a change in ourselves that coincides with the change in seasons – we all have particular times of year that trigger positive and negative emotions for various, often personal, reasons. However, if you experience SAD, the change in seasons will have a much greater effect on your mood and energy levels, and lead to symptoms of depression that may have a significant impact on your day-to-day life.
What is the difference between winter and summer-triggered seasonal affective disorders?
The two conditions can often be lumped together (studies into summertime SAD are still in relatively early stages), but they can be quite different.
In the UK, people will typically start to develop SAD symptoms between September and November, which may continue until spring of the following year. But, it is thought that a small proportion of people who experience SAD, actually experience symptoms in reverse. It is the onset of warmer weather and longer days triggers their depression; symptoms may begin around March, continuing into the autumn.
Whereas winter induced SAD tends to involve overeating and oversleeping, with sufferers finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning, summertime seasonal affective disorder often involves trouble sleeping and a loss of appetite.
How is SAD diagnosed?
Like depression, seasonal affective disorder is not something that can be determined by a simple test, like providing a blood sample. A diagnosis will involve talking to a health professional who will ask you a series of questions about your health and personal life history.
It is thought that susceptibility to other types of depression including winter SAD is a likely cause, but longer days, too much sun and even higher temperatures may also play a significant part.
Self-care for SAD
Recommended lifestyle measures to treat winter SAD may still be beneficial for summer SAD. This includes exercising regularly, managing your stress levels and eating a healthy and balanced diet – to ensure that your body is getting the energy and nutrients it needs.
Another factor that may help with reducing the effects of the symptoms might be to take note of how much natural sunlight you are receiving. It may be worth staying in the shade more, making an effort to keep cool, or even considering blackout blinds for your bedroom – to block out the extra hours of sunlight, which may help with associated sleep problems.
How can counselling help?
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that SAD should be treated in the same way as other types of depression. This includes using counselling and talking treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapies (CBT).
Because one of the most prominent side effects of SAD is depression, there are various talking therapies which are typically used to treat depression which sufferers find extremely useful. Counselling, for instance, gives individuals an opportunity to discuss their feeling openly in complete confidence. More specifically, psychodynamic psychotherapy involves sufferers discussing how they feel about both themselves and others as well as endeavouring to find out whether anything in your past is influencing how you feel today.
It is thought that this method works so well for the treatment of SAD, because much of the focus is placed upon changing the way you think and behave, so that a situation no longer makes you unhappy.
Always remember that you’re not alone. There are people that care about your well-being, so if you need help, just ask.