What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Not everyone enjoys the winter months. 

The winter solstice has come and passed, bringing with it the shortest day and longest night of the year.  If you’re feeling a bit down, you’re not alone. Fewer daylight hours are often linked to feelings of tiredness, sadness and less interest in social activities. These symptoms can be associated with a form of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. 

SAD is defined in the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) as a seasonal pattern of recurrent major depressive episodes most commonly occurring in autumn or winter and remitting in spring/summer. 

According to Macquarie University Professor of Psychology Nick Titov, “Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) has been recognised since the 1980s and was originally considered a condition of its own, but more recently has become regarded as a subtype of major depression disorder, which is clinically significant depression.”

What triggers SAD?

“People aren’t exactly sure how it comes about. I think the reality is about 5 per cent of the Australian population every year will have clinical depression or major depressive disorder and a proportion of those people will have Seasonal Affective Disorder.” Professor Titov said.

In terms of triggers, SAD seems to be related to changes in natural light, which is why it’s mostly associated with the winter months. The changes in light affect mood-boosting hormones such as cortisol and melatonin. 

What are the symptoms of SAD?

“There are some very profound symptoms. People often feel sad. They lack energy. They lose interest in the usual activities and things they enjoy and used to give them pleasure.” Professor Titov said.

The symptoms of SAD can develop over a period of weeks or months. The main symptoms to look out for are feeling sad, eating more and wanting to sleep more, lack of energy, difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, not enjoying things the way you used to and a general feeling of hopelessness.

If you notice your symptoms affect your everyday life, we recommend seeking help from your doctor.

In conclusion 

Winter can make it harder to keep up good habits like staying active and eating right. But by paying attention to our habits and routines, not only can we get through winter but we can also enjoy this time of year.

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