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Seasonal Affective Disorder

by Phil Marks

Autumn is a SAD Time of Year for Sufferers
The onset of autumn has an adverse effect on many people. The group of symptoms appearing at that time of year – in the absence of other explanations - has been named Seasonal Affective Disorder – or SAD in short. You may know what it’s like – the wet and grey days of autumn, accentuated by the shortening length of day have a lowering effect on one’s mood. I know, I suffer from it, and have done fo for the last 20 years or so.  The good news is that it gets better in the spring, for most people.
What are the Symptoms?

These include any or all of :- depression, sleep problems, lethargy, overeating, loss of concentration, social problems, anxiety, loss of libido, mood problems. Usually, a diagnosis is based on 3 consecutive winters of the same symptoms. I don’t suffer from all of these symptoms, thank goodness, just mild depression.

Other names under which it is known include “Winter Blues”. When symptoms are more severe, it maybe known as bipolar affective disorder.
Who Suffers? 

People who live within the tropics – say between 30 degrees north and south of the equator – rarely experience it. In that region, the days are of a relatively fixed length close to 12 hours or so. Also, the intensity of light is high due to the sun’s high average altitude in the sky and relatively lower levels of heavy cloud cover. If you live outside that region, then you may be susceptible. This is an obvious clue to one of the potential remedies – go and live near the Equator. Outside the tropics, it is estimated that 4-6% of the general population are sufferers, though many more – maybe 20% - present symptoms but fall outside a strict diagnosis.
Is it gender-related?

Yes, indications are that women sufferers outnumber men by 4 to 1.
Is it age-related?

Onset tends to be between the ages of 18 and 30 years.
What causes it?

Undoubtedly, it is basically down to changing hours of sunlight and lower levels of daylight intensity. In scientific terms, it is the disruption of the body’s clock - known as the circadian rhythm. There are various theories as to how this affects the body. One is that it causes a reduction in the brain’s production of melatonin – this chemical governs sleep. Another theory involves the reduced production of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter and governs our mood.

Genetic reasons?

There have been suggestions that it is related to a deep rooted hibernation cycle from way back in our genetic ancestry.
Is there a cure?

This will depend on the severity of the symptoms. There are a number of approaches, including drugs, homeopathic remedies, light therapy and moving home to the tropics. I think the last one is the most attractive! I was really happy in Brazil…
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