What is SAD?

What is SAD?

Do you know what Seasonal Affective Disorder is? Seasonal affective disorder (or SAD) is classed by the National Health Service as a form of depression.

But what makes it different from other forms of depression and how do you identify if it is something that either you or someone you know might be experiencing?

What are the symptoms of SAD?

As the name suggests, the condition tends to affect people at a particular time of year.

Usually this period of time is throughout autumn and winter, although according to the mental health charity Mind, some people have been known to experience it in the summer.

Symptoms of SAD can include:

  • Feelings of despair, guilt and/or worthlessness
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Indecisiveness
  • Low self-esteem

Generally, those with the condition will feel less interested in the day-to-day world around them, although everyone can react to this form of depression in their own unique way. With this in mind, they could recognise all of the above symptoms or just one and still have SAD.

Other effects the condition may have on a person can be:

  • Feelings of lethargy
  • Over-sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased appetite

Why does SAD occur in the winter?

While the exact cause of depression is unknown, it is widely accepted that SAD is linked to the level of sunlight the body is exposed to.

As the nights draw in, many people find themselves sleeping for longer and having less energy anyway - and those who experience SAD tend to be more impacted by this behaviour.

The government has highlighted several theories why people with SAD are more susceptible to less exposure to sunlight. One of these is linked to the darker nights causing individuals to produce more melatonin than usual, which makes them feel sleepier and have less energy - two common SAD symptoms.

Another theory is that the lack of sunlight - combined with certain chemicals - has a negative effect on a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which controls sleep, appetite and mood.

How long does SAD last for?

The answer to this depends entirely on the individual, but Mind says symptoms can appear between September and November, and last until as late as May the following year.

Those who experience the symptoms in reverse may be affected between March and the start of autumn.

A less-severe version of SAD known as the winter blues also exists, and this mainly occurs during December, January and February. In this case, symptoms are considered to be reasonably mild.

On a positive note, it is possible to manage the symptoms of SAD - check out our How can I treat SAD? guide for more information.

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