Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and its milder form, Winter Blues (also known sometimes as Winter Depression, or medically as Sub-syndromal SAD) affects nearly a quarter of the UK population. Does that surprise you? It did me, when I read this on the SAD Association’s website! So even if you don’t suffer from one of these conditions yourself, it’s likely that someone close to you does.
I almost don’t know where to start! In writing anything, I tend to find it helpful to answer the 5 Ws and 1 H – What, Who, Why, Where, When, How? The thing is, this could turn into a very looong post, so I’m going to share some basics here, then I’ll go into more detail in separate posts to come.
During the late autumn and winter months, the shorter days and lack of sunlight can make you feel miserable, irritable and very lethargic – a bit like Eeyore. But in the summer and even in the depths of winter, a sunny day can bring out the Tigger in you! Some people even experience mania-type symptoms once spring comes round, known as Hypomania. That’s probably where everyone’s energy comes from for the big spring-clean! For a bit of fun, I found this quiz to identify which Winnie the Pooh character you’re most like - I turned out to be Kanga! Which one are you?
SAD is a type of depression. I know some people aren’t comfortable with this description, but medically, they do sit on the same scale. What differentiates SAD from other types of depression is that it has a very definite seasonal pattern; the symptoms recur each winter. You normally will have experienced symptoms in the winter that disappear in summer for three consecutive years before you would be diagnosed with SAD.
And what are the symptoms of SAD? Well, I mentioned three of the main ones already, but a few of the most common others include:
- Disturbed sleep patterns (sleeping more or less and/or waking frequently)
- Loss of interest in things you normally enjoy
- Craving carbohydrates and sweet foods (comfort food!)
My food shopping basket in winter would make you laugh! Image credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1100035
There isn’t a ‘cure’ for SAD or Winter Blues. But most people can successfully manage their symptoms using light therapy. The SAD Association estimates that this will work for around 85% of sufferers.
You’d normally use light therapy daily from the onset of your symptoms, often around Oct/Nov until Mar/Apr when the daylight hours lengthen. The treatment involves exposure to a bright SAD light that simulates the level of light you would get on a bright spring day. How long you need to use the light for depends on the severity of your symptoms and the strength of the light.
I whole-heartedly recommend SAD light therapy – I have managed my symptoms for eight years using a SAD light lamp and a dawn simulator, which wakes me gently with light in the morning. I recommend dawn simulators to everyone, regardless of whether they suffer from SAD - they’re such a lovely way to wake up!
I will write some more in-depth posts, but if you want more information on SAD and Winter Blues before then, please have a look at this NHS page. *Update: I’ve done a couple of these posts now - you should find links at the bottom of this page!
What Winnie the Pooh character do you identify with? Is there something in particular that you’d like me to cover in a future post?
See you soon!