• Lucy Adie

Mid-Week MOT: Let there be light.....

This week, we will discuss an illness that blights some people particularly at this time of year...

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

SAD is a recognised mental health disorder which is often wrongly described as the 'Winter Blues'.

21% of the population experience some mild mood changes as the clocks go back and days become shorter with sunlight in ever diminishing amounts. It is normal to be affected by the weather and seasons but these feelings should not interfere with daily life.

Of these people, 8% will have serious depressive illness which prevents them from functioning normally and requires them to seek medical or psychological treatment.

What is SAD?

SAD tends to occur between Sept/Nov and March/April (winter months) when our natural sunlight is reduced. It is basically a type of depression that comes and goes with a seasonal pattern. The low mood then lifts and resolves when the weather improves with spring and summer.

Needless to say, this disorder is relatively rare within 30 degrees of the equator and people from those countries who move here to live, are often vulnerable to SAD.

Light travelling through the eye reaches the hypothalamus area of the brain which is the control centre for functions such as sleep, appetite, sex drive, temperature, mood and activity.

It is thought that there are various triggers for SAD, as well as light deficiency, which include hormonal levels, traumatic events, illness, changes in diet or medication and withdrawal from drug or alcohol dependance. SAD may run in families and being vulnerable to it may have a genetic component.

During darkness, the brain produces more melatonin which causes lethargy and sleep. This production is switched off during daylight hours. Serotonin controls mood, sleep and appetite and lack of light reduces its production and causes low mood and insomnia.

A disturbance in our natural circadian rhythm disrupts the body's ability to use sunlight as a wake up trigger and this contributes to symptoms of SAD.

Symptoms of SAD:

For a diagnosis to be made, you have to have suffered with serious symptoms for 3 years on the trot and have some or all of the following effects -

Low mood, negative thoughts, apathy, sleep disturbance, increase appetite leading to weight gain, poor concentration, irritability, low libido, feeling stressed and tense, getting ill a lot in winter, tearfulness, guilt and feelings of despair.

These symptoms will resolve or can be interspersed with manic episodes of well being and good mood.

Treatments for SAD:

Get more sunlight when it is available.

Exercise regularly and manage stress.

Light therapy by way of a powerful light box of at least 2500 Lux.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).


Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI) drugs such as Seroxat, Prozac and Citalopram.

You should speak to your GP if you are experiencing symptoms of a depressive kind for any reason, and they will be able to refer you to the correct treatment provider, and perhaps conduct a physical examination too, to rule out organic causes.

For further information please visit: or

As always, for osteopathy in High Wycombe and beyond, call Lucy from OsteoFusion on 07833 321604 or visit

Thanks for reading.

#seasonalaffectivedisorder #winterblues #lighttherapy #mentalhealthdisorder #depression #serotonin #melatonin #circadianrhythm #SAD



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