Mental health

Family health: seasonal affective disorder

It’s no surprise that some people start to feel a little blue at a time of year when the days are short and the nights long and dark.

Most people will currently be struggling to catch even a few rays of sunshine and spring still feels a long time off.

For some patients, feeling deprived of sunlight can be a serious concern that can lead to genuine medical complaints.

Known medically as Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD is sometimes called the winter depression.

It can result in low mood, irritability and a feeling of generally lacking in energy. Combined, these can also lead people to develop an appetite for certain unhealthy foodstuffs and gain weight.

It’s thought that SAD is linked to the reduced amount of sunlight that people are exposed to during the shorter days of autumn and winter. This is thought to have an impact on parts of the brain that produce certain hormones.

Difficulty sleeping
One such hormone is melatonin, which makes people feel sleepy, while the other is serotonin, which affects mood, appetite and sleep.

There are a number of strategies that patients diagnosed with SAD can do to minimise the symptoms.
They include maximising exposure to sunlight by taking a walk during daylight hours. Taking regular exercise will also help to relieve stress.

Some people also find that special SAD lamps help to alleviate their symptoms by replicating the rays of light that patients with SAD may be lacking.

Cognitive behavioural therapies can also help and in certain circumstances, your GP might consider antidepressant medication.

While SAD does affect a lot of people, it’s always worth checking with your GP to rule out other health conditions with similar symptoms.

Dr. Phelan By Dr. Phelan General Practitioner Published: 12/03/2021