Inclusive Insights - Seasonal Affective Disorder

February 20, 2024

Welcome to Inclusive Insights. Powered by NASHAbility, this monthly communication aims to promote greater understanding on a range of topics, and by doing so, help us to build an even more inclusive culture. It’s an opportunity to hear more about topics and issues which you may not know very much about but may be topics that are relevant to your colleagues, family and friends

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

As we approach spring with the worst of winter behind us, the mornings are getting brighter and the days are getting longer. This means more hours of sunshine – critical to our quality of life and overall wellbeing. But did you know, there are severe mental health implications during this gloomy season, according to the NHS over 2 million people a year in the UK alone suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)also known as “Winter Depression”. In reality, the number of people who suffer from SAD is significantly higher than this, as it’s underdiagnosed with many people not even realising they have it, many writing it off as “holiday blues”.

What is SAD?

SAD is a cyclical type of depression that as the name suggests, is triggered by the season, typically during winter months. The reason being that with less exposure to sunlight and therefore less Vitamin D, your brain has lower levels of Serotonin, a chemical (neurotransmitter)responsible for regulating your mood according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Surprisingly, even though it’s most common during the winter months, it can also occur during the summer

Typical symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling angry, anxious or irritated
  • Sleeping too much/more than usual
  • Social withdrawal (“feeling like hibernating” – not wanting to see people)
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that you usually enjoy
  • Medical problems – aches, pains, headaches, digestive issues etc. that don’t have a clear physical cause and don’t go away with treatment
  • Losing interest in sex/physical contact
  • Suicidal thoughts

Additional symptoms specific to summer:

  • Trouble sleeping (Insomnia)
  • Poor appetite, weight loss
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Aggressive or violent behaviour

What can be done to manage the symptoms?

Lifestyle measures

  • Get as much sunlight as possible, take breaks during working hours when the sun is out, even if it’s only for 5-10 minutes several times a day.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Try to maintain your normal sleep schedule.


Light therapy

  • A special lamp known as a light box, can be used to simulate exposure to sunlight.

Vitamin D

Our body creates Vitamin D from direct sunlight on our skin. In the northern hemisphere this means we need to bump up our intake. This can be done through:

  • Vitamin D rich food sources such as Oily fish (Salmon, Mackerel, Sardines), egg yolks, red meat, breakfast cereals
  • Vitamin D tablets

Talking therapies

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – A type of talking therapy that teaches you coping skills. Focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes affect your feelings and actions
  • Counselling


  1. Antidepressant medication

If you have been given a diagnosis of SAD, your GP/Doctor will do a thorough assessment of your symptoms and medical history and if they believe it’s necessary, they will prescribe you the appropriate medication.


Resources to learn about Seasonal Affective Disorder:


Things you can do if you need help:

  • Make an appointment with your GP/Doctor and tell them all the symptoms you’ve experienced
  • Stay connected with friends and family, even if it’s virtually. Social support is underrated and is very effective when experiencing symptoms. It can provide comfort during difficult times, even when you don’t feel like talking.
  • Contact your local mental health charities for information about mental health support or services available to you, this can be found by doing a quick google search.
  • If you feel you are a danger to yourself or others, seek professional help through your local emergency helpline.

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