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Does winter make you SAD? You can get help!

Do you dread the coming of winter because you don’t recognise the person you become? 

23 May 2017
2 minute read

man staring out window with cup of coffee

SAD is so much more than just a feeling of seasonal sadness. 

If you feel down and miserable in winter (and not just because you’re cold!), you might be suffering from a very real depressive condition - Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). For some people, the winter months bring the affliction of winter depression, which can vary from just feeling blue to outright debilitating sadness and lethargy. The good news is that if you suffer from SAD, you can get help.

We approached the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) to get an expert view on what you should do if you suffer from SAD.

What is SAD? “SAD is so much more than just a feeling of seasonal sadness,” says Dr Theona Ballyram, a specialist psychiatrist who works at the Akeso Clinic in Parktown, Johannesburg. She explains that SAD is a type of depression which presents with symptoms that are severe and persistent and that interfere with a sufferer’s daily life, during the season in which they are affected.

Symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Hopelessness
  • Lethargy or fatigue in the day time
  • Social withdrawal
  • Changes in appetite leading to weight loss or gain
  • Disrupted sleeping patterns
  • An inability to concentrate
  • Decreased interest in social activities or intimacy

SAD can become crippling for sufferers, and often goes untreated for an extended period because of the very fact that it comes and goes with the seasons –patients feel that because they are “better” after a few months, they don’t need to seek help.

Is it SAD?The following criteria must be met for a diagnosis:

  • You have experienced depression and other symptoms for at least two consecutive years, during the same season every year.
  • The periods of depression have been followed by periods without depression.
  • There are no other explanations for the changes in your mood or behaviour.

How is SAD treated? Once correctly diagnosed, SAD can be treated through a combination of therapies. Ballyram says, “It is imperative that anyone suffering from a mood disorder such as SAD takes a multi-disciplinary approach to treatment, to ensure that they are treating the condition holistically and not in isolation.”

Therapies include:

  • Antidepressants and mood stabilisers
  • Melatonin, which regulates sleep hormones
  • Light therapy. A specially designed light box can be used indoors for half an hour each morning. However, as sunlight is abundant in the winter months in many parts of South Africa, it can help to simply get out into the sun.
  • Psychotherapy or a support group
  • Exercise and a generally healthy lifestyle

Sufferers are advised to be aware of the timing of their condition and to be proactive as the winter months approach. Talk to your prescribing doctor about adjusting the dose of your antidepressant, or taking other steps to get the support you need in winter.

An end to being SADAs with any other form of depression, it can be difficult to seek treatment when you are beset with symptoms that make you lethargic and apathetic. However, if you identify with the symptoms mentioned above, you should make an effort to seek help so that you can be productive and content the whole year round.

You can contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group on (011) 783-1474/6 or SMS 31393, 7 days a week from 8am to 8pm for more information.

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