As the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, mental health gets worse. Many individuals living in the UK will develop some form of depression, often without even realising.
Words: Jade Ratcliffe, Subeditor: Caitlyn Hudson
SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is thought to affect around 7% of Britain every year between September and April. Although it doesn’t seem like a high number, it is likely that a greater percentage are affected but aren’t diagnosed.
You may notice signs of overeating, lack of motivation, insomnia/constant tiredness, depression, fatigue and behavioural issues such as mood swings.
No, it isn’t the norm to feel like this in the winter! Chances are you won’t notice because of the annual reoccurrence. Around 17% of the British population will suffer from subsyndromal SAD, a milder form of the disorder.
Student Jenny Clarke is far too familiar with the condition; she’s unlucky enough to suffer from it every year.
“At the end of every October (just after my birthday) I start to feel hopeless and my motivation goes straight out the window”.
She told me that she didn’t realise that she had it at first, she thought it was due to her getting older and feeling like she hadn’t accomplished anything. Her mother made her go to the doctors, where they diagnosed her with Seasonal Affective Disorder. She now takes the antidepressants ‘SSRI’s (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).
“I can’t be bothered to do the simplest of things like make dinner. I just eat junk food because it’s easier,” she said.
Jenny explained that her grades at university started to drop because she didn’t see the point. She said that she usually spends weeks on assignments but when it gets to the winter months she ignores them and has thoughts of quitting.
“Sometimes I just sit there thinking about making a cup of tea, but I don’t end up having one because I can’t find the energy to get up.
“I turn into a hermit, all of my friends get angry because I stop going out with them.”
There are many different forms of depression; you don’t have to be sitting in your room staring at the wall. In fact, it’s more common for young people to act completely the opposite. In a bid to block out their emotions and low mood, they will often turn to alcohol. This sees them acting recklessly and showing no responsibility or remorse for their actions.
Research shows that it’s not just the fat gene that you can blame your parents for. We inherit so much from our family, so if they develop SAD, we’re more likely to.
Medical student, Caroline Davis, suggests taking Vitamin D supplements throughout the winter. “Vitamin D is what we get naturally from the sun. When we lack in it, our mood suffers. By taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms, we can help to prevent the winter blues.”
Vitamin D is also found in foods such as oily fish (sardines, salmon and mackerel), eggs, fortified fat spreads and breakfast cereals.
If you are unfortunate enough to get the winter blues, then sadly the summer months may not be any easier for you. It has recently come to light that people who are prone to SAD are more likely to develop ‘summer SAD’. But if it is brought on by the lack of daylight hours and heat then how can we develop the disorder in this time of year?
It is thought that stress is more common during heat exhaustion. You become stressed over body image- wanting to look good in bare minimal clothing. Financial problems- that holiday has taken a toll on your bank account, not to mention the numerous days out. The main cause is the disruption to your routine… Britain doesn’t give you heat without humidity, so you’re less likely to find the energy to partake in your usual activities.
“I’ve felt down throughout the winter months, I think everybody does at least a little. One of the things I swear by is an LED SAD light box; it’s worth the cost to keep your mood in tact.
“Light changes the hormone levels in our bodies. Melatonin, otherwise known as the nighttime hormone makes us lethargic. In the winter we release more of this from the shorter daylight hours. Special LED lights work by decreasing the levels of Melotonin,” Caroline explained.
But you can’t use just any old light! The sun produces a full spectrum of colours, which the ‘Full Spectrum light boxes’ replicate. But blue lights of a particular bandwidth can also do the trick.
Tips on how to beat SAD:
- Sit by the window in the daylight hours (even though there aren’t many).
- Eat healthily- we crave junk food when it’s cold outside. Fight the urge!
- Stay active- you increase the level of serotonin in the brain when you work out, which is why the term ‘runner’s high’ is commonly used.
- Buy a LED SAD light- trick the brain!
- Stick to your usual routine- don’t let the weather deter you!
- Take a supplement of vitamin D- you’ll feel more benefits than you think.