Every year two million people in the UK suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, a form of depression that relates to the onset of winter. It is particularly prevalent amongst younger generations, with the main age of onset ranging from between 18-30. Whilst the concept can often have a cynical response from those who underestimate the extent to which SAD can affect everyday life, the disorder affects a surprisingly large number of people.
The most common symptoms include a loss of energy, concentration and creativity, and can often lead to social withdrawal and a drastic change in diet. As a student, suffering from these symptoms, everyday becomes a struggle. Having to force yourself out of bed to go to lectures, making yourself dinner or even just socialising with your housemates – everything can become quite daunting. The Winter Blues can often lead to long periods of loneliness and can eventually turn you into something of a social recluse.
A lot of these symptoms can be difficult to identify among the student population given the lazy student stereotype. Would you immediately be worried if one of your housemates had stayed in bed, missed a few lectures, and stuffed their face with high carb products all day? Given that a whopping 7% of the population suffer with some form of depression every winter, it is important that people are aware of what these simple signs can suggest.
SAD, unlike other forms of depression, doesn’t necessarily bring about feelings of despair – this often means people don’t automatically make the connection between the symptoms and the cause. It is common also that students who will have already been diagnosed with SAD will keep it to themselves because its association with depression embarrasses them. This can be even more difficult for those in their first year, who are away from familiar home comforts for the first time and may not have had the chance to build strong friendships yet.
Impact spoke to a sufferer of SAD who explained, “Everything was difficult… it was horrible, I felt like I had lost interest in life itself.” For those suffering from this disorder, every day presents its own challenge and life can come to a halt. She continued, “I ended up having to take a gap year – I couldn’t concentrate on my work and had to focus on getting better. I had to move back home, I needed something familiar.” She went on, ‘support provided by friends and most of all my family proved essential in my getting better, even if it meant them forcing me out of bed, convincing me to take walks to get some fresh air, and making me go out and buy new clothes so I could feel good about myself.’’
Whilst SAD can affect a lot of people, some naturally suffer greater than others and there are several treatments available depending on the severity. A popular non-medicinal treatment is the use of light therapy, which involves sitting near a light-box or wearing a light visor for up to an hour a day. This mimicking of daylight can have dramatic positive benefits for those susceptible to SAD. Other treatments include St John’s Wort, an extract available without prescription and 5-Hydroxy-tryptophan (5-HTP), a chemical compound that helps produce Serotonin, often prescribed by doctors.
Ritul Shah, of the Pharmacy at Mayfair in London warns that “these remedies may not benefit all sufferers and some individuals will require treatments prescribed by their physicians.” He continues, “Even simple lifestyle changes like participating in daily exercise and eating a balanced diet can help reduce the symptoms of SAD.”
Samantha Owen and Priyal Dadhania