Seasonal affective disorder – what you need to know

What is seasonal affective disorder?

Many people will be excited about the festive period and will have exciting things planned. But the end of the year can also have an impact on our mental health and wellbeing. Over half of adults say their overall mood is worse in the winter season compared to the summer season.

In fact, some people have what is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

SAD is a type of depression, in which people experience symptoms of depression at a certain time of the year. SAD can affect you during any season or time of year. But it is sometimes known as ‘winter depression’ because, for many people, the symptoms are usually more apparent and severe during the winter.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is thought to be common. It is believed that approximately 29% of adults experience the symptoms of SAD, although some people experience it more severely than others. It can affect people of any age, including children.

Symptoms of SAD

The symptoms of SAD include:

  • a persistent low mood
  • a loss of pleasure or interest in things that would normally interest you
  • irritability
  • feelings of despair, guilt, and worthlessness
  • feeling tired and sleepy during the day
  • sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
  • craving carbohydrates, overeating, and gaining weight
  • other symptoms of depression

If you also experience another mental health problem, you may find that things get worse at times when you’re affected by SAD.

What causes SAD?

The precise cause of SAD isn’t currently fully understood. However, it’s often linked to reduced sunlight exposure during the shorter days in the winter months.

The main theory behind this is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus from working as it should, which may affect things like your hormone levels and your internal body clock.

Some cases also seem to run in families, so it’s possible that genes might play a role in its development.

Managing & treating SAD

There are a number of things that people can do to support their own mental health and manage symptoms of SAD, such as keeping active in winter (if that is when they are affected), eating healthily, and socialising with friends and family. Additionally, it’s important to speak to your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of any mental health problem and are finding it tough to cope. You might be suggested a treatment like talking therapy, or medication.

Mental health resources

Our mental health platform contains a comprehensive range of resources on mental health, the triggers to poor mental health, and mental health problems. The resource on SAD gives further advice and guidance on supporting yourself if you have SAD.