HEALTH: Seasonal affective disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern. SAD is sometimes known as “winter depression” because the symptoms are more apparent and tend to be more severe during the winter. The symptoms often begin in the autumn as the days start getting shorter. They’re typically most severe during December, January and February. SAD often improves and disappears in the spring and summer, although it may return each autumn and winter in a repetitive pattern.

Symptoms of SAD can include:

  • a persistent low mood
  • a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
  • sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
  • craving carbohydrates and gaining weight.
  • For some people, these symptoms can be severe and have a significant impact on their day-to-day activities.

When to see your GP

You should consider seeing your GP if you think you might have SAD and you’re struggling to cope. Your GP can carry out an assessment to check your mental health. They may ask you about your mood, lifestyle, eating habits and sleeping patterns, plus any seasonal changes in your thoughts and behaviour.

What causes SAD?

The exact cause of SAD isn’t fully understood, but it’s often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days. The main theory is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly, which may affect the:

  • production of melatonin – melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy; in people with SAD, the body may produce it in higher than normal levels
  • production of serotonin – serotonin is a hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep; a lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of depression
  • body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) –your body uses sunlight to time various important functions, such as when you wake up, so lower light levels during the winter may disrupt your body clock and lead to symptoms of SAD
  • It’s also possible that some people are more vulnerable to SAD as a result of their genes, as some cases appear to run in families.

Treatments for SAD

A range of treatments are available for SAD. Your GP will recommend the most suitable treatment programme for you. The main treatments are:

  • lifestyle measures, including getting as much natural sunlight as possible, exercising regularly and managing your stress levels
  • light therapy – where a special lamp called a light box is used to simulate exposure to sunlight
  • talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or counselling
  • antidepressant medication, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
    (Source: NHS Choices)

Sources of Support

GP – You should consider seeing your GP if you think you might have SAD and you’re struggling to cope.

Early Intervention (Insight)
(GP referral and self referrals)
Early Intervention (Insight) provides free talking therapies to NHS patients in Calderdale. They help people with depression, anxiety, trauma, bereavement and other mental health problems.
T: 0300 555 0191 or 01422 262380

Calderdale Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT)
(GP referral and self referrals)
IAPT help people to get quick and easy access to the best type of therapy for their individual needs. Some of their therapists offer treatment on the phone and will call the service user at their convenience, which can include Saturdays or evenings. A therapist is also available on Saturday morning. The service is delivered in centres around Calderdale and each person is offered an assessment to determine if IAPT is the right service for them.
T: 01484 434625/6

Turning Point Counselling Service
Turning Point exists to offer help to those who need someone to talk to-someone who will listen and understand, someone specially trained, someone they can trust.
01484 950 808


Healthy Minds
Healthy Minds is Calderdale’s local mental health charity. Led by people who have personal experience of mental distress. Their services include: support groups throughout Calderdale, recovery courses, mental health awareness & anti-stigma workshops, welfare rights advice service, volunteer support service and a forum for people to have a say on mental health.
T: 01422 345154

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