We’re in the middle of winter and it’s an understatement to say the weather isn’t great; clouds obscure the light, darkness and greyness seem persistent, alongside the equally perpetual showers of rain. For some people, this winter weather is a painfully accurate, and realistic, pathetic fallacy. For SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) sufferers, the world at this time of year really is seen through a dark grey filter; the filter of depression.
What is SAD? SAD is a type of depression that occurs seasonally, usually in the winter months. It is estimated to affect around 7% of the population every winter, although not all of these cases will be diagnosed. Slightly more females suffer from SAD than males, and the age of onset is relevant especially to university students; usually occurring within the ages of 18–30.
This is more than a case of winter blues, and just because SAD only occurs for several months of the year does not make this illness any less serious. This mental illness can be quite crippling and can seriously disrupt the sufferer’s ability to function.The symptoms of SAD are wide ranging, and will be present for 3 or more consecutive winters for a diagnosis of SAD to be made. Symptoms include: depression, sleep problems, lethargy, over eating, difficulties in cognitive function, social problems, anxiety, loss of libido, and sudden mood changes in spring. Not all symptoms must be present for a diagnosis of SAD, and the severity of symptoms can vary from mild to debilitating. However, diagnosis by a GP is of central importance for medical advice and treatment, especially if there are many symptoms of a serious nature.
SAD is thought to be due to biochemical imbalances in the brain caused by the lack of sunlight in winter. The hormone melatonin has been implicated in particular. Sunlight inhibits melatonin production, and the lack of sunlight in winter causes excessive amounts of melatonin to be produced, triggering SAD in vulnerable people.Thankfully, treatment is available for SAD. Light therapy, exposure to very bright light for 2 hours upon waking, is an effective treatment in up to 85% of cases. It is thought to work by suppressing the excessive production of melatonin associated with SAD. Certain non-sedative types of anti-depressant drugs can be helpful in combination with light therapy in the 15% of more stubborn cases of SAD.
Medical treatment is not the only kind of help available to SAD sufferers. The SAD Association (SADA) is the only organisation in the UK solely dedicated to SAD. They are a voluntary organisation and charity that receives no government funding, but instead funds itself through donations and membership subscriptions from their 1500 members. SADA exists to provide support and advice to people with SAD and to raise awareness of the condition.
What do SADA do? SADA tackles SAD in three ways: distributing information, scientific research and answering questions.
SADA distributes information about SAD to the public, both sufferers and non-sufferers alike. By dispensing information about SAD through their website and the media, they hope to spread awareness of SAD to the general public and to health professionals. They also distribute leaflets and information packs at hospitals and health centres, to reach people who have been diagnosed with SAD and to help their families understand the condition.
They are also involved in scientific research into SAD. SADA frequently funds research projects, undertakes their own studies and surveys, and raises the profile of SAD at medical and scientific conferences. The hope is that by increasing the involvement of the scientific community with SAD, better treatments will be developed.
Importantly, SADA also responds to enquiries from the curious public. Many different people and organisations regularly get in touch, from SAD sufferers to health professionals, and local authorities to schools. By giving accurate and up to date information to these people, awareness of SAD has rocketed in recent years.
The mission of SADA is perhaps expressed most movingly by they themselves: “SADA’s aim is to ensure that SAD is recognised and accepted in every part of the UK, and that those with SAD can maintain a productive life with the support of doctors, employers, family and friends.” Through the work of SADA, the awareness of such a condition can be raised and as a consequence, more sufferers can be treated.
SADA website: www.sada.org.uk
Contact SADA: SAD Association, PO Box 989, Steyning, England, BN44 3GH.