The season to be jolly is over, the bright red baubles have been taken down, and many people are faced with the winter blues. It usually arrives right on cue, along with the Christmas leftovers - credit card debt, emotional bruises from family conflicts, and the realisation that you hadn't in fact cleared your desk by Dec 31st. January is a long month with the 31st payday seemingly years away and even though the days are getting longer, they do not seem to be getting any lighter and nor are people's moods.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as Seasonal Affective Depression, affects 1 - 2% of the population but research shows that it could actually affect as many as 12% as it is often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
The symptoms for SAD are very similar to those of depression. Symptoms are often physical as well as emotional.
The following could be signs of depression:
⇒ Problems with concentration, decision making and memory.
⇒ General feeling of being useless and helpless, pessimistic and negative thoughts all the time
⇒ Sleep problems, difficulty falling asleep, insomnia, early wakening or sleeping too much and falling asleep in the day.
⇒ General tiredness, lack of energy, feeling unmotivated and can't be bothered to do anything as well as low libido.
⇒ Changes in eating habits, either over-eating or loss of appetite.
⇒ Unexplained aches and pains and headaches. Nothing seems to be able to make the symptoms better. If you already suffer from back pain or migraines these could increase in frequency and intensity.
⇒ Digestive problems, feeling nauseous, bouts of constipation and/or diarrhoea.
⇒ General feeling of deep sadness and thoughts about death.
⇒ Dizziness and feeling light headed.
So how do you know if you have SAD and not general depression?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is used by health professionals in North America to diagnose mental health problems. It is difficult to tell the difference between SAD and general depression so in order to justify a diagnosis of SAD, the focus is on the seasonal aspects.
Although winter is the most common form of seasonal depression, summer and spring depressions also exist. For depression to be seasonal it must fit into the following pattern, and must have lasted for at least two years.
♦ The depression must always begin in the same season every year.
♦ The depression must always end in the same season every year.
♦ There is no evidence of depression in any of the 'normal' seasons over the two years.
♦ There have been more seasons with depression than without since the problem was first noticed.
The light at the end of the tunnel
Although antidepressants have been the recognised treatment for all forms of depression for many years, doctors and academics are waking up to the need for talk therapies and other alternatives. For seasonal depression there is substantial evidence that light therapy helps many patients and vitamin D has been shown to enhance mood during the winter months. Acupuncture, apitherapy, food supplements and herbal medicine can all help as can mind body therapies such as yoga and aromatherapy