Seasonal Affective Disorder – What is it?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression closely related with the darker months of the year. Sometimes referred to as the winter blues, SAD is a condition that affects up to one in 15 people in Ireland every year. 

According to the HSE, the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) are similar to those of normal depression but become particularly heightened during the Autumn and Winter months, sometimes lasting until Spring. The nature and severity of SAD varies greatly among sufferers with some finding the condition a bit irritating while others experience a severe and significant impact on their daily life.

The symptoms of SAD can include but are not limited to:

  • a persistent low mood
  • a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • feeling irritable
  • feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • low self-esteem
  • tearfulness
  • feeling stressed or anxious
  • a reduced sex drive
  • becoming less sociable

Sandra O’Loughlin is a nurse from county Kildare. For Sandra, her SAD was further aggravated by her shift work.

Sandra said: “I think everybody feels a bit crap when the long nights draw in and you get to the stage where you’re getting up and going to bed in the dark, but for me I think it’s another level. I genuinely used to experience really high levels of depression and anxiety that I wouldn’t otherwise feel during the brighter months.

“If I could have worked a regular 9-5 I think I wouldn’t notice it as much, but I was starting work at half 7 in the morning and finishing at half 8 at night so on days where I was working I literally wouldn’t see the sun for pretty much four months of the year,” she continued. “Even in the hospital there are very few windows as it is.

“At my lowest, I was ignoring my family and friends and calling in sick to work. No one knew what was going on with me, I didn’t even know what was going on with me, I just thought I was going mad,” said Sandra. “When I finally went to my GP, she suggested pretty quickly that it was SAD. I actually had chronically low levels of vitamin D as well so she prescribed me a supplement amongst other treatments.”

Two years ago Sandra made a career change, and left the hospital wards to become a public health nurse. Her new job means she can spend a lot more time outdoors and has a constant change of scenery.

“The job change has made all the difference for me,” said Sandra. “I also do light therapy which I find really effective. I know not everyone does, maybe it’s a placebo thing for me but the light therapy definitely makes me feel good.”

According to Mental Health Ireland: “SAD may begin at any age, but it most commonly starts between 18 and 30. It occurs throughout the northern and southern hemispheres but is extremely rare in people living within 30 degrees of the Equator, where daylight hours are long, constant and extremely bright.

“Symptoms generally appear between September and November and continue until March or April, when there may be a sudden burst of energy and activity accompanying the longer, brighter spring and summer days. A diagnosis is usually made after you’ve experienced two or more consecutive winters of symptoms.”

Mental Health Ireland list these six treatments for seasonal affective disorder:

If you’re experiencing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder contact your GP or go to Mental Health Ireland for further information and options.

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