“Four seasons fill the measure of the year;
There are four seasons in the mind of [wo]man”
– John Keats
Women are four times as likely to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Yes, four. This phenomenon is evidenced in a study by Rosenthal (2013), and added reason to correct Keats.
What is SAD? Depression that occurs in the Autumn and Winter – and has occurred in this seasonal pattern for two years or more.
Symptoms? Lethargy; an increase or loss of appetite; sleeping too much or too little; low mood; difficulty in concentrating; and loss of enjoyment in any activity.
There are 3 main causes of seasonal depression: a lack of environmental light; biological predisposition; and stress. Each are discussed below.
What to do in the fight against light? A combination of..
*Light therapy (see below)
*Over-the-counter vitamin D supplements
*The classics – exercise, eat and sleep healthily, socialise
*Talking to a professional – psychotherapist/GP/both
*Remove unnecessary stressors (this may sound overly simplistic – but try it consciously?)
What the heck is light therapy?
Light therapy brings in more light during dark days naturally or via a ‘light lamp’ i.e. it is a simulation of sunlight from a light box. There is a whole lot of research since the 80s – pioneered by a ‘Norman Rosenthal’ supporting light therapy being as effective for SAD as anti-depressants for non-seasonal depression (Rosenthal 2013).
The disclaimers: Ideally use a light box under the supervision of a professional – especially if you start to feel (rare) side effects such as headaches or eyestrain. You’re not meant to stare at it, by the way. Also make sure you speak to a Doctor first if you have a history of skin cancer: even though light therapy works through the eyes rather than skin, and most UV rays are filtered, some gets through.
The practicalities: Light boxes can be bought on the high street and cost from £40. Regular lamps aren’t nearly as effective but better than nothing. If a light box is affordable, you’re looking at 20-30 minutes daily, first thing in the morning. And you’re not tied to the thing. The best bit? Benefits tend to be felt within days if not two weeks.
Best of all? Go au naturale. Grab early morning sunshine if it’s there for the taking. Light boxes are clever, but they’re no match.
Anglin, R., et al. (2013). Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: systematic review and meta-analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 202, 100-107. [Viewed 20 October 2019]. Available from: DOI:10.1192/bjp.bp.111.106666
Melrose, S. (2015). Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches. Depression Research and Treatment. vol. 2015, Article ID 178564, 6 pages. [Viewed 30 August 2020]. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/178564
Norman Rosenthal., (2012). Seasonal Affective Disorder [online]. normanrosenthal.com [Viewed 30 September 2020]. Available from: https://www.normanrosenthal.com/about/research/seasonal-affective-disorder/
Rosenthal, N.E., (2013). Winter Blues. 4th ed. New York: The Guilford Press