by Emily Maybanks
SAD stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder. According to the website of the mental health charity Mind, “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that people experience at a particular time of year or during a particular season. It is a recognised mental health disorder.” It is true that SAD is more common during the winter months because it’s normal to feel more cheerful, optimistic when the sun is shining and the days are longer. However, some people do experience SAD is reverse and feel worse during the summer months. It is important to note that SAD can worsen symptoms of existing disorder. SAD is more common in countries like the UK because there are large changes in the weather and daylight hours during the different seasons.
What causes SAD?
-There are several causes of SAD. It’s good to think of SAD as being solar powered – it’s pretty rubbish when winter comes around but it’s nice to know things improve when summer returns.
-The effects of light – when light hits the back of the eye, messages are sent to the area of the brain that controls things like sleep, appetite, temperature and mood. If there’s not enough light, these functions gradually slow down. Some people need more light than others do in order for their body to function properly.
-A disturbed body clock – your brain sets your body clock by the hours of daylight. One theory is that, if you experience SAD, the part of the brain that does this isn’t functioning completely and therefore your body clock slows down, leading to exhaustion and depression.
-Chemical and hormone levels – this is divided into a chemical called serotonin and a hormone called melatonin. The brain uses serotonin to regulate mood and those who experience depression have been found to have lower levels of serotonin, especially in the winter. Similarly, with melatonin, the brain produces this hormone to make us sleep and those who experience SAD produce higher levels of melatonin in the winter.
Similar with other forms of depression, SAD can also be triggered by:
– An upsetting life event, such as bereavement.
– A physical illness
Symptoms of SAD
SAD has numerous different symptoms and you don’t need to be experiencing all of them. If you’re diagnosed with SAD, it’s generally because you’ve been experiencing a variety of these symptoms in the same season for at least two years. Symptoms include:
-Lack of energy for everyday tasks – such as studying or working.
-Depression – feeling sad, tearful, guilty, hopeless or sometimes apathetic.
-Anxiety and panic attacks.
-Being more prone to illnesses.
-In the UK, you may start to experience SAD symptoms between September and November and they may continue until up to May the following year.
Treatments for SAD
If you feel as though you’re unable to manage SAD symptoms yourself, your GP can suggest different treatments with you. These include counselling, antidepressants or bright light therapy. However, there are lots of ways that you can help yourself manage SAD symptoms, including:
-Making the most of natural light – spending as much time as possible outdoors when the weather is nicer.
-Build a support network – get lots of support from friends and family, as well as your GP.
-Exercise and eat well – physical exercise can help lift your mood, and maintaining a healthy diet can help to balance the common SAD craving for carbohydrates.
-Avoid stress – although this is not always possible, it is a good idea to dedicate more time to relax.
My symptoms of SAD were triggered when I was sixteen and they worsened in the winter months in 2012 after my Dad passed away earlier in the year. I experience a very low mood during the winter months every year and my life circumstances at the time tend to affect how much the symptoms of SAD impact on my life. Things that I have found that have certainly helped me is keeping busy and doing stuff that I enjoy. I know that this year especially, being more involved with the Waterfront and SSM is really helping me to more efficiently manage symptoms of SAD. In Swansea, we’re so lucky with location and I cannot emphasise enough how much sometimes just a walk on the beach or in the park does for my mood, especially on a sunny day. Finally, talking and being more open about my experiences have helped me to subconsciously explore my own feelings. Here in Swansea, we’ve got the Students’ Union Advice Centre and they are great if you ever just want a general chat about things, as well as the University’s Wellbeing services.