Seasonal affective disorder is often simply called ‘Sad’, the ‘Winter Blues’ or ‘Winter Depression’ as it is a depression when symptoms are much more apparent in the winter time and can be quite debilitating to the sufferer. Some people do have symptoms in the summer but it is more common throughout the winter.
According to statistics, seasonal affective disorder can be affecting around six in every one hundred people in the UK. It is a seasonal depression that seems to be triggered by the lack of natural sunlight in Autumn and Winter. In very simple terms,the part of the brain that is responsible for producing the hormone melatonin - which affects sleep - and also the hormone serotonin - which regulates mood - is affected as well as the natural body clock or circadian rhythm.
Many people may naturally lack energy in the colder and darker months, preferring the warmth and comfort of indoors. The festive period can invariably induce stress because of pressure on finances and family related issues but these are usually somewhat anticipated and therefore easily managed. It is also quite natural at times to become disheartened by the bleak weather and we often eagerly anticipate the warmer months.
However, for other people the feelings of lethargy, lack of concentration, persistent low mood, low self esteem, anxiety, tearfulness, lack of interest in activities that previously were found interesting, irritability, reluctance to socialise, insomnia or sleeping for longer periods, change in appetite and feelings of utter despair can signify depression.
Of course, no two sufferers are the same and there are many other symptoms that one can experience when suffering from depression - the above serves as merely an example.
More sickness days are taken in January than any other month and this can of course, be somewhat explained by the strains of coughs and colds that are in constant circulation but the stress, anxiety and depression can be attributed to Sad and when our already weakened immune systems are compromised, it can all become too much to handle.
It is always best to talk to someone if you are feeling low. A colleague, your HR representative or your line manager will all be able to offer guidance. If you notice a colleague is ‘out of sorts’ then gently let them know you are always available to talk to. Depression or mental illness of any kind should never make the sufferer feel guilty or ashamed and recognising there is a problem is the first step in recovering.
Seasonal affective disorder can affect anyone of any age but is more likely, according to data, to affect younger adult females and can be hereditary with a tendency to be more common in families with other major mental illnesses, but not always.
The good news is that no one has to struggle alone. Sad is easily identified by a health professional and treatment can be an initial mixture of antidepressant medications, light therapy, talking therapy and ensuring correct nutritional intake and vitamin supplements - other supporting treatments may also be available.