Feeling a little low on grey, miserable days is perfectly normal, but for some people, this response can get more extreme and cause problems in their day to day life. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression which mainly occurs during the winter months, December, January and February. This has earned it the nickname the “winter blues,” and around two million people in the UK are thought to suffer from it. Finding out a little bit about the condition and the different treatment options available to you helps you determine whether counselling or other therapy would be beneficial.
Why the Winter?
SAD is thought to occur during the winter because of the reduced exposure to natural sunlight. As the days get shorter in the winter, individuals are exposed to less and less light, which is believed to influence several neurotransmitters within the brain. Sunlight is thought to directly impact on the region of the brain known as the hypothalamus, which is responsible for controlling appetite, mood and sleep, and light exposure could also influence levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and melatonin. The lack of sunlight in the winter might also impact on individuals’ body clocks. Although the cause of the condition isn’t fully understood, these are the leading theories. Like ordinary depression, this condition may require psychotherapy to overcome.
What are the Symptoms of SAD?
The symptoms of SAD are relatively similar to those of depression, except that they occur only during the winter. A counsellor won’t definitively say that anybody is suffering from SAD unless they have experienced symptoms for two or three consecutive winters. The most common symptoms are a lack of energy and enthusiasm, social withdrawal, alcohol or drug abuse, loss of interest in sex, anxiety, an inability to focus and depression. This can cause a variety of problems through the winter, and individuals suffering from the condition can struggle to retain a job or a relationship during the period. That’s why psychotherapy or other interventions are extremely useful in severe cases of SAD.
Who is at Risk?
Generally speaking, people aged between 18 and 30 are more likely to develop SAD, with most first experiencing symptoms before the age of 21. It’s virtually never found in people who live within 30 degrees of the equator, being most common in the extreme northern and southern hemispheres. It’s also more likely in those who once lived in tropical, sun-drenched regions and migrated to colder climates. Overall, around ten percent of the northern European population suffer mild symptoms, and two percent have more severe symptoms which require some form of therapy.
What Treatments are Available?
The most commonly used treatment for SAD is light therapy, which generally consists of a box or visor which delivers sun-like light to the affected individual. These are specially designed to provide the right amount of light whilst staying within safe levels of UV. These light therapies are usually used for one or two hours per day in the winter months to alleviate the condition’s symptoms. Counselling using the cognitive behavioural therapy approach is also effective for managing the symptoms of SAD. Psychotherapy is usually advised if there is a co-existing problem or if other factors might be contributing to your symptoms.
If you or your loved one is suffering from SAD, we can help you get the treatment you need. It can be difficult to distinguish serious cases of SAD from more common forms, and we can help you determine the severity of the problem. We’ll discuss your treatment options with you, and can offer professional assessments and psychotherapy as required. Drop into our Luton offices today or get in touch with us over the phone to see how we can help you!
For more information about our costs for SAD counselling services please see the about us page.