Don’t be SAD, seek help for winter depression

Published on: 31st October 2017

As the days get shorter and the clocks go back many people will start to notice that their mood gets lower, they lose pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities and they are more irritable or lack energy. You may be feeling sleepy during the day, sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning. You may also notice that you’re gaining weight due to craving foods high in energy. These are all signs that you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern.

The exact cause of SAD (or winter depression) is not fully understood but is thought to relate to low levels of the hormone melatonin which can be due to reduced hours of sunlight; as well as low levels of serotonin in the brain which influence mood and disrupt people’s body clocks following changes to sunlight levels in the winter.

Despite the fact that many people experience SAD they are often unaware of effective treatments available for it. SAD should be treated in the same way as other types of depression using talking therapies. In people with more severe symptoms talking therapies can also be delivered alongside antidepressant medication.

Talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) have been shown to be effective in helping people manage depression through adapting their lifestyles.   
CBT aims to change negative emotions like depression by challenging what we think and changing what we do in certain situations. CBT sessions can be delivered via courses, computerised programs, over the telephone or face to face. Courses that you complete with other people in a similar situation are particularly popular and the demand for access to computer-based CBT programmes continues to be a high.  

There are some simple steps anyone can try that may help improve symptoms:

  • Get as much natural sunlight as possible. For example, taking a brief lunchtime walk can be beneficial.
  • Make your work and home environments as light and airy as possible.
  • Sit near windows when you're indoors.
  • Take plenty of regular exercise, particularly outdoors and in daylight.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Manage your stress levels. steps2change, a free service offered by Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, run a specific course on overcoming stress and can provide a number of useful resources to help reduce its impact.

In addition to this Counselling and Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) have been shown to be really effective for people who experience difficulties in their relationships with others as a result of their depression.   Counselling for depression aims to target the emotions underlying depression and often involves working with the person’s negative view of themselves. People with depression experience a very distorted view of themselves often referred to as low self-esteem and their symptoms often include high levels of self-criticism. By targeting these maintaining factors people can make contact with underlying feelings, make sense of them and reflect on the new meanings that emerge.  Interpersonal therapy (IPT) focuses on peoples relationships with others and on problems you may be having in your relationships, such as difficulties with communication or coping with bereavement.

This October, LPFT is celebrating its 10th anniversary as foundation trust and in these past 10 years I have seen a rise in awareness around mental health issues, but still too often people do not seek support when they need to. There’s no reason for suffering in silence and trying to cope with winter blues. If SAD is really getting in the way of your day-to-day activities then help is on hand. Anyone can self-refer to steps2change here>>