Seasonal Challenges: What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

With the clocks going back recently, it seems like the ideal time for me to write about how the changes in seasons can affect our mental health and well-being.

 

Some people experience ‘the winter blues’ when they feel a bit down during the cold, dark months of winter. For others, the feelings they experience are a lot more serious than this and have a profound, negative impact on their mental health.  This is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Getting through the Winter can pose a significant challenge and the advent of Spring (and the clocks going forward) is eagerly anticipated.

 

It would be understandable if you found it difficult to accept that Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real condition. Surely the changes in seasons can’t affect our mental health that much?! The following extract, taken from a Psychology textbook, may help convince you;

 

‘Some people become depressed during the winter season, when days are short and nights are long. The symptoms of this form of depression, called seasonal affective disorder, are slightly different from those of major depression…Both forms include lowered mood, lethargy and sleep disturbances, but seasonal depression includes a craving for carbohydrates and an accompanying weight gain…’[1]

 

We learn from the above that Seasonal Affective Disorder is a ‘form of depression’ and the symptoms are only ‘slightly different from those of major depression’. In other words, it deserves to be taken seriously.

 

Why does this condition typically affect people in the colder, darker months? We don’t know for sure but I find the following explanation convincing;

 

‘Although various mechanisms have been advanced, the most interesting has been the proposal that the light-sensitive hormone melatonin is dysfunctional in individuals with SAD.’[2]

 

With the clocks going back, we are exposed to less sunlight and this can trick our bodies into thinking it’s night-time, making us feel like we want to hibernate! Can you relate to this?

 

This may seem like a lot of information to take in! However, I believe it is important to know what we are up against before we attempt to engage in battle with it.

 

In the next post, we will explore what can be done to guard against Seasonal Affective Disorder and embrace the colder, darker months with renewed enthusiasm.

 

 

 

[1] N. Carlson, G. Martin and W. Buskist, Psychology (London, 2004), p. 792

[2] Ibid.

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