Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression experienced during certain times of the year.

If you have SAD, your symptoms will usually be more apparent during autumn or winter. But for some people this is reversed, with symptoms less prevalent during autumn or winter and more apparent in spring or summer.

Many of us feel as if we have less energy and motivation during the colder, darker months. It may even affect our sleeping or eating habits. But if this is affecting your day-to-day life, and happens only at certain times of the year, you may have seasonal affective disorder.

As a type of depression, SAD shares its symptoms, including feeling down, being restless and feeling extremely tired. The difference is that these symptoms are stronger during a certain time of the year.

It isn’t clear what causes SAD but it’s believed to be linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during autumn and winter. This may lead to increased melatonin levels, which makes us feel sleepy, and decreased serotonin levels, which can affect our mood and appetite.

Other symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:

  • Hugely increased appetite and increased weight
  • Poor concentration
  • Loss of interest and lack of enjoyment
  • Low libido (sex-drive)
  • Wanting to be alone

You can find a longer list of symptoms on the NHS website and NAViGO’S Choice and Medication portal.

Your first port of call may be addressing your lifestyle. Make sure you’re getting plenty of sunlight every day throughout the year and exercise regularly. Pay attention to your own emotional needs and stress levels – self-care is important.

Talking therapies, like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), might help you deal with the symptoms of SAD. CBT tries to change the way you react to situations by adjusting the way you think and behave with ‘coping skills’.

Light therapy may also be an option. This is where a special lamp is used to simulate exposure to sunlight.

Sometimes it may be necessary to use medication to lessen the effects of SAD. You can see a list of medicines we might offer you on our Choice and Medication portal.

If you’re in a mental health crisis and need urgent help, call the Single Point of Access on (01472) 256256 and select option 3. They are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Alternatively, you can call NHS 111 free from a landline or mobile phone.

Open Minds offers a range of therapies aimed at helping you to deal with SAD and should be your first port of call if you’re looking for support. You can self-refer to Open Minds online.

Safespace provides instant support if you’re vulnerable and need assistance with your mental health out-of-hours. You can speak to the team using Zoom or by calling in via telephone, between 6pm and 10pm, Monday to Friday.

NHS mood self-assessment: This short questionnaire will help you understand how you’re feeling and signpost you to the most appropriate support. 

Orcha Apps Library: This library lists thousands of NHS-approved health apps by condition, making it quick and easy for you to find support.

Every Mind Matters: This Public Health England campaign shares hints and tips developed with experts and approved by the NHS.