South Africans are solar powered. We’re used to a hot, sunny climate which means it can be a bit of a shock to the system to move abroad to a new country where the weather is just as unfamiliar as the people. Long, cold, dreary winters and short summers can quickly take their toll on South Africans; which is why it’s so important to be aware of the potential impact of seasonal affective disorder. Yes, the SADs are a real thing! Here’s how to identify seasonal affective disorder symptoms and what you need to know.
Seasonal Affective Disorder: you are not alone
Relocating to a new country and embracing change is emotionally taxing and when so much around you feels foreign and unknown, depression can set in and make it worse. The weather can also quietly take their toll on your mental health – seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression linked to seasonal changes, and it usually rears its head around the same time every year. Most people with seasonal affective disorder notice that their symptoms start showing in autumn, carrying through the long winter months, leaving them perpetually exhausted and moody. Less often, seasonal affective disorder causes depression for some people in the spring or summer.
Seasonal affective disorder is a type of recurrent major depressive disorder, which means it’s so much more than the winter blues, or midseason gloom. You don’t have to “tough it out” and you’re definitely not alone. If you’re aware of it, the SADs is something you can consciously work against, to keep your mood and motivation levels as steady as possible throughout the year.
How are you diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder?
To be diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder you must meet the criteria for major depression and it must correspond with specific seasons for at least two years. In other words, you must have experienced seasonal depressions much more frequently than any non-seasonal depressions.
What are the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder?
Generally speaking, most people experience the onset of seasonal affective disorder symptoms in late autumn or early winter while people with the opposite trigger pattern experience symptoms that begin in spring or summer. Regardless of the trigger season, symptoms can start out mild and the depression may deepen as the season progresses.
What are the signs of seasonal affective disorder?
Here are some of the things you should be looking out for, whether you’re self-assessing or you’re worried about a loved one experiencing the SADs.
- A lingering feeling of depression for most of the day
- Low energy levels, always feeling tired
- Difficulty with sleep, whether falling asleep or staying asleep
- Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
- Feeling agitated, anxious and on edge
- Difficulty with concentration and finishing what you started
- Feelings of hopelessness, guilt or worthlessness
- Thoughts of death, suicide or self-harm
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
Seasonal affective disorder in autumn and winter
Symptoms specific to seasonal affective disorder triggered by winter (aka winter depression) may include:
- Appetite changes, especially carb cravings
- Weight gain
- Fatigue or low energy
Seasonal affective disorder in spring and summer
Symptoms specific to summer-onset seasonal affective disorder may include:
- Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Agitation or anxiety
When should you see a doctor for seasonal affective disorder?
Everyone has down days, and this is completely normal. But if your depression has you feeling down for days at a time, and you find it impossible to gather the energy to do activities you normally enjoy, it’s time to see a doctor. Especially if your appetite has been affected or your sleep patterns have changed, or you find yourself turning to alcohol or other substances comfort or relaxation, or you experience hopelessness or thoughts about suicide.
Interested in reading more about seasonal affective disorder?
- Fascinating myths and misconceptions about SAD.
- Three helpful strategies to minimise the impact of SAD
- 12 ways to ease seasonal affective disorder symptoms
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