Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is a type of depression that has a seasonal pattern. It is characterised by episodes of depression that recur at the same time each year – most commonly during the winter, when it’s cold and miserable outdoors, or maybe that’s just me. In fact, it isn’t just me, because sometimes it’s called ‘winter depression’ too. Some people, often with masochistic tendencies, do get it in the summer, but that’s quite rare.
The symptoms of SAD often start as the days begin to get shorter in the autumn. They are worst during December, January, and February. For most people with SAD, the symptoms start to improve by spring time, then disappear.
What causes it?
Basically, no one knows. What we do know, however, is that the sun tends to make us happy and in winter there is less sun and more cold and rain, which tends to make us unhappy. Although in some parts of the world when they have winter it’s really sunny, plus they have lovely snow. Do they get SAD? Don’t know, I guess it’s still cold, which can be quite unpleasant if you’re not wearing the right clothes.
Here’s some interesting info on hypothalamus: The amount of sunlight that you receive affects some of the chemicals and hormones in your brain. However, it is not clear exactly what the effect is. One theory is that light stimulates a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which controls mood, appetite and sleep. These things can affect how you feel.
Or could the answer lie in our melatonin levels? Melatonin is a hormone (a chemical that is produced by the body) that affects the way we sleep. It is produced by the pineal gland (a small gland inside your brain). When it is dark, the pineal gland produces melatonin to make you feel sleepy. Because it gets darker earlier and is generally darker during the winter, we feel like hibernating and that makes us sad.
What are the symptoms?
Aside from the classic depression symptoms, there may be added ones during the winter:
- being less active
- feeling tired and sleeping more (hypersomnia)
- not having as much energy
- not being able to concentrate
- putting on weight
- an increased appetite and eating more than usual (hyperphagia)
- craving carbohydrates (starchy foods, such as bread and pasta)
How do I treat it?
Well, if I were you, I wouldn’t be reaching for the anti-depressants, although of course that is an option. Light therapy can be pretty good apparently as can psychological therapies such as CBT. But even better – do some exercise, do stuff which makes you happy and ride out the crappy weather. It’ll be summer again soon!