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Is SAD making you miserable?

Manchester’s uncharacteristically good weather may have temporarily lifted your hopes into believing that maybe Manchester isn’t the UK’s rainiest city but, trust me, the rain will come. For some people, however, the darkening skies, shorter days and colder weather will have a bigger effect than the encouragement to whip out your trusty winter coat.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is now a recognised depressive illness. It is affecting many who are unfortunate enough to live in a country that is plagued by miserable weather all year round. But at what point does a preference for the ‘sunnier’ months become a mental illness? According to SADA (the UK’s only non-commercial support organisation for SAD) symptoms for the disorder include lethargy, poor cognitive function, increased vulnerability to winter illnesses, sleep problems, over-eating, social problems, loss of libido and an altered mood in springtime. However, for those who suffer more intensely, depression and anxiety may occur, too.

But why do sunless skies and chilly temperatures affect some people in such a way? SADA says that “Light passes through the eye to the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that controls a wide range of functions.” Sounds a little complex though, right? Your hypothalamus is a section of the brain responsible for the production of copious essential hormones. These hormones control many functions, including body temperature, thirst, hunger, fatigue, sleep and libido.

When this part of your brain doesn’t get its daily dose of sunshine, it may cease to work correctly. Being the producer of so many important chemicals, this can negatively affect the mind and body of an SAD sufferer. Changes will include a spike in melatonin, which will result in increased fatigue, whereas their serotonin levels (controlling mood, appetite and sleep) will plummet, resulting in feelings of depression. Their circadian rhythm (the body’s internal clock) will also be affected, thus worsening the symptoms.

If all the symptoms sound a little too familiar and you’re dreading the impending winter months, you don’t need to start saving for your expatriation to the Caribbean (although that would be nice, wouldn’t it?). There is treatment available. Solutions include a change in lifestyle measures, light therapy, talking therapy or antidepressant medication. Diagnosis is usually made after the sufferer shows symptoms for three or more consecutive winters. But there’s no time like the present to communicate with your GP if you’re feeling blue. After all, ‘winter is coming’.

Tags: depression, SAD, seasonal affective disorder, sunshine, winter, winter blues

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