Seasonal Affective Disorder can affect people in many different ways. Because of this, a doctor will need to understand how it is impacting you personally, before recommending a treatment.
Our doctors can discuss your symptoms with you to get a good understanding of how you’re feeling and then, if suitable, discuss the most suitable treatment options for you.
The treatment options may include a prescription for antidepressants or other medications that are specifically designed to help reduce anxiety. Or you may be referred to a mental health team for further assessment or talking therapies.
In some cases, the doctor or specialist may recommend a combination of some, or all, of these treatments.
Let’s take a closer look at how SAD can be treated.
You may be prescribed antidepressants for your SAD, particularly if it is severe, as it is a type of depression. Antidepressants are believed to be most effective when they are taken just before the start of winter, before symptoms usually appear, right through to spring, when the symptoms often go away.
It can often take a few weeks before you notice the medication helping, and you may need to try a few different types before finding one that works for you - a doctor will be able to talk you through the different medications.
It is likely you’ll be prescribed Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), which work by extending or enhancing the effects of serotonin, which is responsible for sending chemical signals between nerves and various organs throughout your body. This, in turn, helps boost your mood, making you feel happier.
Antidepressants do have some common side effects, which the doctor will make you aware of before they write you a prescription. Always follow the instructions given to you by the doctor.
Talking therapy may be an effective way to treat SAD – our doctors can refer you for this is they think it will help. There are different types of talking therapy:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
This can help you to learn how to deal with your SAD symptoms on a day-to-day basis.
CBT is designed to help you change the way that you think, feel and act in certain situations, helping you feel happier and more confident in yourself.
You may have multiple sessions, and these could be in a group session, or one-to-one, depending on what will work best for you. There are also computer-based programmes that may be useful.
You will talk to a trained counsellor about how you are feeling and about what is worrying you. You will be asked to talk about things from your past that could be contributing to your SAD, and hopefully this will help you address the cause.
SAD Light Therapy
Many people find that SAD lights can significantly improve their mood during the winter months, although evidence is inconclusive.
The lights are very bright and are thought to help replace the sunlight that you miss in the winter months, encouraging the production of serotonin to help boost your mood, and melatonin to help you feel more awake.
You will need to sit in front of the light for a period of time each day (usually 30 – 60 minutes) during the winter months - it has been found that they work best first thing in the morning. It is unlikely they will cure your SAD long-term, but may help with the effects on a short-term basis.
It is also unlikely that you will be able to get one on the NHS, but they are readily available to buy – make sure it is approved for the medical treatment of SAD, as these ensure the UV rays are filtered out, so they don’t damage your eyes or skin.
If it works for you, you may notice improvements within a week, but sometimes it can take longer. There are not many known side effects, but they are not recommended if you have eye disease, or if you take medicines that make you more sensitive to sunlight. If you have any side effects when using the light, speak to a GP.
If you believe that you are suffering from SAD, it is a good idea to speak to a doctor for more advice, as it is considered a form of depression. They will be able to recommend your next steps.
In conjunction with the recommendations that they make, or if your SAD is mild, there are also things that you can do to help ease the symptoms of SAD yourself:
Get as much natural sunlight as possible – go for a walk on your lunch break, spend 10 minutes in the garden, or even trying to sit near a window when indoors may help.
- Let lots of light into your home
- Avoid stressful situations if you can
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet
- Exercise outdoors regularly
- Talk to family and friends, so that they understand how SAD affects you and how they can support you.
- NHS, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Treatments, 30/07/2018.
- MIND, Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), 2016.