It appears that September has arrived and brought Autumn along with it. Wet and dreary days have already started to set in and I’ve noticed that 8 pm is significantly darker these days. For many, the start of Autumn is welcomed – orange leaves starting to fall, pumpkin spiced latte back in the coffee shops, Christmas decorations starting to appear but for many this isn’t a great time of year because it means Seasonal Affective Disorder starts to kick in.
Most people tend to have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. It is a form of depression that can come and go with the seasonal patterns. It can sometimes be known as “winter depression” or "winter blues" because it is more common during the winter months. Symptoms can be really similar to depression and include low mood, loss of pleasure in normal activities, struggling to get up in the mornings, sleeping for longer, irritability, loss of appetite, not wanting to see people, struggling to concentrate and many more.
The causes of SAD are not fully understood but it is generally linked with fewer hours of sunlight during the winter months. The main research on SAD shows that the lack of sunlight can affect parts of your brain from producing the correct amounts of melatonin, serotonin and affect your body clock, all of which can then lead to SAD taking hold. Melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy so less sunlight can increase the production of this, making you feel more tired. Serotonin is a hormone that affects mood, sleep and appetite and lack of sunlight means less is produced.
The most common treatment for SAD is light therapy. Special lights and alarm clocks are very easy to get hold of and are thought to be very effective. I myself, have an alarm clock which simulates the sunrise and helps you to wake up at a normal time. This does work well in the winter months when it’s a lot darker in the mornings. Other products include light boxes or special light bulbs which are a lot brighter than your average light.
You may not know but there are people who suffer with SAD during the summer months too. I recently read an article about how seasonal affective disorder affects those in Greenland. Possibly one of the harshest environments to live in, with their long days in summer and incredibly short days in the winter. The article stated that 85% of their suicides happen during the summer months and is often linked to insomnia due to the never-ending sunshine. This gave me a new view on Seasonal Affective Disorder and one I hadn’t considered before.
It is important to recognise the signs in yourself and take care of yourself during the darker months. Not only this, reach out to others if you know they are struggling with the dark nights. It is as much about supporting each other as it is yourself.