There may still be the odd sunny day but the days are noticeably shorter, colder and darker. Autumn is most definitely upon us.
But while many of us may love the change in season, for others it can be a challenge, both physically and mentally. If you’re struggling right now, or have felt noticeably down in previous winters, you could be suffering from seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD.
‘We see lots of patients who really struggle at this time of year,’ says ZoomDoc GP, Dr Sohini Kar.
‘The good news is there is lots of help and support available,’ she says.
Here’s what you need to know about SAD, including how ZoomDoc can help make diagnosis and time off work a little less stressful.
What is SAD?
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is often described as a winter or seasonal depression.
‘Symptoms appear or worsen during the winter months, when the days are shorter and there’s less exposure to daylight,’ says Dr Sohini.
The exact cause of it is not known but research so far suggests a link between lack of sunlight and the effect on key hormones and chemicals in the brain for some people.
‘It can also be genetic, running in families,’ says Dr Sohini.
What are the symptoms of SAD?
‘SAD is more than just not liking the cold and dark, or feeling a bit tired. This type of depression can mean not being able to work, study or even get out of bed for some people,’ says Dr Sohini.
Key symptoms generally include:
- loss of pleasure or interest in everyday activities
- feeling depressed
- lacking in energy
- decreased sex drive
- eating more and gaining weight.
If you recognise the symptoms or suspect you have SAD, see your doctor.
Getting help and support with SAD
The symptoms of SAD can often overlap with other conditions, such as menopause, thyroid issues and other types of depression.
What stands SAD apart is the link to the time of year.
‘If your depression occurs at roughly the same time of year, each year – perhaps around the time the clocks go back at the end of October, or in January once the distraction of Christmas is over – it will make it easier to diagnose SAD and tailor treatment towards it,’ says Dr Sohini.
Keep a record of the time of year your change of mood hits, if you’ve noticed a pattern, and also let your GP know if you feel a noticeable change or improvement during the spring and summer months.
Struggling to get an appointment, or need a second opinion? Download our app and speak to a ZoomDoc GP at a time to suit you.
Once diagnosed, treatment for SAD is similar to other types of depression. This can include:
- counselling or therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- lifestyle changes – getting as much natural daylight as possible, getting regular outdoor exercise, eating a healthy, balanced diet.
Some people find things like light therapy – using light boxes or devices to simulate sunlight – helpful with symptoms. However, there is no concrete evidence to show whether these help.
If you urgently need someone to talk to about your depression, you can find a mental health helpline via the NHS, here.
Taking time off work with SAD
If you need time off work or support from your employer while you seek treatment for SAD, ZoomDoc can help via its medical letters service.
Choose the ‘Work Sickness certificate’ and for £40 we’ll send you a same-day sick note so you don’t have any further stress sorting that out. That way you can focus on your recovery rather than extra trips to the GP to get a medical letter for your employer.
Read more about where to get support when you’re unwell and off work.