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Bigger than the winter blues

Nurturing

REACH OUT People who believe they might be suffering from SAD are encouraged to talk to a professional or someone they trust.

As the winter draws closer, the threat of SAD looms large for some

Mental Health
Jannah Walshe

Summer holidays are over, children are back at school and the days are getting shorter. Signs of autumn are everywhere. Some people love this time of year, all cosy warm clothes, nights in watching TV and routine, but others struggle with the thought of winter – and the weather here in the west of Ireland doesn’t help.
The torrential downpours can be a pain and the getting up in the dark difficult, but it doesn’t necessarily have a major impact on how you are feeling overall. For many people, any negative reactions are generally short lived and easy enough to overcome.
Others, however, can spend up to five or six months, anywhere between October and April, battling with seasonal affective disorder, commonly known as SAD.
SAD is more than a ‘general winter blues’. It is a medical condition and its impact on an affected person’s quality of life ranges in severity from mild to severe.
What is it about winter that can leave us feeling so down in the dumps? Typically there is no one concrete answer as to why some people suffer with SAD and others don’t. Strong evidence shows a link between the lack of sunlight and SAD. As it affects more women than men, especially in the years between puberty and menopause, it is felt there may be a hormonal link. Genetics may play its part, as many people with SAD have at least one family member who’s had bouts of depression or SAD at some time.
Some of the symptoms people may experience with SAD include lack of energy and activity; tiredness and lethargy; sleep disturbances; sadness and anxiety; appetite changes and possible weight gain; withdrawal from family, friends and activities; isolation; loss of libido and interest in physical contact; difficulty concentrating; premenstrual syndrome.
Yes, we live in Ireland where daylight is at a premium and the weather is far from sunny. And yes, symptoms of SAD should ease off in a few months’ time. However, these are not reasons enough to suffer in silence with this condition. If you can relate to any of the symptoms above and think you may have SAD, I would caution against self-diagnosis and advise you to speak to your doctor, counsellor or someone you trust. Tell your family and friends about it and the effects it has on you so they are able to help and support you.
Get the sunlight you require throughout the winter by spending as much time as possible outdoors. Granted, this is more difficult in our Irish winter, but even a short blast of fresh air and daylight each day can make a difference. Antidepressants or talk therapy are other common forms of treatment for SAD. And support groups are available. Some people even swear by the benefits of having a pet.
With a combination of the right treatments, a person can realistically expect to relieve all or some of the symptoms of SAD. Don’t keep it to yourself. Be persistent until you find the right treatment for you.

For more information on SAD, find it in the A to Z lists on www.mentalhealthireland.ie or www.hse.ie, or visit www.aware.ie.

Jannah Walshe is a counsellor and psychotherapist based in Castlebar and Westport. A fully accredited member of The Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, she can be contacted via www.jannahwalshe.ie, or at info@jannahwalshe.ie or 085 1372528.

 

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