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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD); what it is, symptoms, treatment and help

woman sat by a window looking out with sad expression

Research shows that September marks the start of SAD season, where 1 in 20 people in the UK suffer from Winter Depression, medically known as SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that comes and goes in a pattern with seasonal change. Throughout the autumn/winter period, sufferers feel a change of mood, decreased energy or motivation, may sleep longer or lose focus. Research has recently found that women are affected more often than men and it usually begins during adulthood, with the risk increasing with age.

Over a third of those aged 16 years+ suspect they may have SAD, suffering from low moods in autumn and winter and Londoners are significantly likelier than those anywhere else in the UK to have been diagnosed with SAD (over 11% of people in London).

sad woman on bed holding her knees to her chest in her hands

Dr Sarah Perkins, a Clinical Psychologist specialising in anxiety and mood disorders at Schoen Clinic Chelsea, explains: “The symptoms of SAD usually peak in January and February. The main cause noted is the lack of sunlight which could prevent a part of the brain, the hypothalamus,  from functioning properly which consequently affects several issues, such as:

  • The production of melatonin – a hormone that makes you feel sleepy.  Sufferers of SAD may produce higher levels.

  • The production of serotonin – the hormone that affects your mood, appetite, and sleep; reduced serotonin is linked to feelings of depression.

  • The body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) – your body uses sunlight to time various functions such as when you wake up.  Lower light levels can disrupt your body clock leading to SAD symptoms.

For some, SAD symptoms can come on during summer months and feel lighter during the wintertime, however, that’s quite rare”.

The most common symptoms of SAD include:

  • Persistent low mood

  • Excessive sleep or sleeping longer than normal

  • Decreased ability to focus or concentrate

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities formerly enjoyed

  • Irritability and anxiety

  • Feelings of guilt and hopelessness

  • Fatigue, or low energy level

  • Decreased sex drive

  • Increased appetite, especially for sugary foods and carbohydrates

  • Physical issues, such as headaches

Dr Perkins continues: “For many people, SAD can cause significant disruption to their work, home-life and relationships. Regular exercise and getting natural light can alleviate or lessen the symptoms. An early morning walk is highly recommended.”

If you're suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), our experts at Schoen Clinic Chelsea can help. Call their friendly team on 0203 146 2300 or email them directly.

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