I think I might be suffering from seasonal affective disorder - is there anything I can do

01:00 Mon 24th Sep 2001 |

asks admason:
Seasonal affective disorder - or SAD - affects around one person in five in the UK as the evenings grow shorter. It can range from a mild 'winter blues' to a seriously disabling depression, which needs medical treatment.

Q. What causes it
It's a form of depression which results from falling light levels. Lack of light causes a chemical imbalance of important brain chemicals such as serotonin, which is known to lift mood and relieve pain.

Q. What are the symptoms
Symptoms usually start in September or October and fizzle out by April. They include:

  • Feeling down and mood changes.
  • Sleeping problems, such as being unable to stay awake, or even waking too early.
  • Lack of energy and feeling lethargic.
  • Putting on weight because of a craving for carbohydrates. (It's thought that starchy foods help in the production of serotonin.)
  • In more extreme cases, there is severe depression, anxiety and lack of interest in social interaction or physical contact.

Q. Who is most likely to suffer from it
It usually starts between the ages of 18 and 30, and you're unlikely to get it if you live near the equator.

Q. What can I do
Light therapy is effective and has been proven to make a difference in around 85% of diagnosed cases of SAD. It also has the advantages of being simple to do; it involves no drugs; and has the minimum side effects.

You need to spend two to four hours in front of a very bright light every day. Your usual lighting won't do - you need a light that is at least ten times the brightness of ordinary household lighting.

You don't need to sit and stare at the light box - you can carry on as normal if you stay in the same room. It's best to use it as soon as you get up.

The light boxes are fairly expensive (from about �100) - contact the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association (SADA) for details.

Q. Anything else
St John's Wort has been shown to be effective in alleviating the symptoms of mild to moderate depression. (Always buy a quality product containing a standardised extract.)

Raise your serotonin levels naturally by eating more of the foods which contain the amino acid tryptophan (a precursor of Serotonin) - they include chicken, turkey, bananas and cottage cheese.

Exercise - exercise boosts your serotonin levels.

Relax - any breathing and relaxation techniques will help - try meditation.

Q. Where can I find out more
Contact SADA for an information pack. (NB Always see your GP first for a diagnosis, as there can be other reasons for depression.)

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