Seasonal Adjustment Disorder (SAD)

Published: 01st July 2007
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The best solutions to beat the winter blues.

Dark days and early, dark nights for many of us, can mean craving starchy food, feeling grumpy, mild depression and difficulty staying awake and, for some, it can mean serious and debilitating conditions.

For people suffering from Seasonal Adjustment Disorder (SAD) the start of winter can mean real biological depression. In the UK it is thought that 3% of people suffer from SAD (and a many as 20 million Americans) and almost 20% from winter blues. As well as a host of symptoms such as increased anxiety, weight gain, depression and lethargy many sufferers are also vulnerable to infections because their immune system is weakened.

What is SAD?

SAD usually begins, in the Northern Hemisphere, around November reaching its worst point for sufferers in January and February. It is caused when the shorter days of winter reduce the amount of sunlight to the retina. The lack of sun causes the body's level of serotonin to decrease while increasing the level of melatonin, which in turn causes seasonal depression. SAD symptoms disappear in spring, and many sufferers may experience a short period of hyperactivity or hypermania when the light begins to increase.

Symptoms of SAD

Appetite change - craving for sweet and starchy food (chocolate, pasta, bread)

Sleep disruption sleeping at odd times or for long periods of time

Difficulty in waking up (where this not the norm for you)

Weight gain

Fatigue all day no matter how much rest

Lack of energy and lethargy

Little or no sex drive

Mood swings

Lack of concentration

Inability to make decisions

Increased PMS in women

Withdrawal from social contact

Unfounded anxiety

Feelings of guilt or worthlessness

Thoughts of death and/or suicide

In children and young people

Feeling tired and/or irritable.

Temper tantrums. Difficulty concentrating.

Vague physical complaints.

More than usual craving for junk food. .

Getting a Diagnosis for SAD

If you think you are suffering from any of these symptoms, especially if they are unrelated to other social and interpersonal problems, and the more serious ones at the end of this list, then you need to consult a doctor. SAD can be difficult to diagnose accurately and it is important to find a professional to help with the diagnosis. A Consultant will look at the pattern of depression to see if it develops during winter and ends with the change of the season. Even if you have never had these symptoms before do consult a doctor as it may well be related to SAD, but do remember it means a lot more than feeling a bit down.

Treatment for SAD

SAD can significantly improve with the use of light therapy, and some hospitals now have walk in clinics with light boxes for people with SAD. Light boxes have been an effective solution for as many as 80% of sufferers with improvements occurring in as little as four days of use. Light therapy should be the first treatment for SAD. If this does not work your Doctor may recommend antidepressants but do let your doctor know you want to try light therapy first (sometimes it may not be possible because of retinal disease or because your health authority does not support light therapy treatment). For people with milder versions of the SAD symptoms or a bad case of winter blues we have compiled a list of activities and treatments (costing nothing, or very little, to 100.00) that may help dispel some of the winter gloom.

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