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All about SAD

What is sad?

SAD stands for seasonal affective disorder, but it can also be known as "winter depression". It is a mood disorder that affects of millions of people all around the world every year. The symptoms are normally more severe in winter, but this isn't always the case.


Symptoms of SAD

The symptoms of SAD can include but aren't limited to:

  • a persistent low mood

  • a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities

  • irritability

  • 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

  • changes in appetite

  • trouble concentrating

  • increased desire to be alone

What causes SAD?

The exact cause of SAD is not 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

There are a number of different treatments for SAD, ranging from those prescribed by a GP (ie medication) or some changes in lifestyle routine. If you're concerned or if SAD is affecting your life then you can talk to your GP.

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 medicine – such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)



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