Friday, September 14, 2012

Weathering The Weather: is it SAD?

Over the last few weeks we've been having some fantastic spring weather here on the east coast of Australia. Brilliant sunny days and crisp clear nights. It really has been wonderful. At the same time I've been feeling a little more alive, things seeming a little easier. I suppose that many people feel like this, with warm summer days making it easier to get going than cold, wet winter days.  But is it all a little SAD?

Seasonal affectiive disorder (SAD) is now widely recognised as a common disorder, despite initial skepticism. But what a lot of people don't realize is it is NOT a stand-alone diagnosis. In fact it is associated with a major depressive episode for people with major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder.

It is also commonly believed that the depressive feelings of SAD are associated only with winter, but in fact can occur at any time of the year, regardless of season. While winter is the most common season for the symptoms to show, all SAD really needs is repeated periods of depression at around the same time each year - winter, spring, summer or autumn, it doesn't matter which.

But just because you may have lower energy levels at a certain time of year does not mean you suffer from SAD. Most people experience times where they feel lethargic and unmotivated, usually in winter where the dreary days can make it difficult to get going.  But this is not a depressive episode and it's highly doubtful you would really need any intervention using medications or therapy.

An real occurance of SAD is a full blown major depressive episode: oversleeping, overeating, difficulty waking in the morning, morning sickness, lack of energy, poor concentration, inability to complete tasks, becoming withdrawn, decreased sex drive, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, etc... All this can lead to feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and even thoughts of self-harm. It is not something to be treated lightly.

I know that personally I generally feel better on warm sunny days than cold wet ones. Does that mean I suffer from SAD? Probably not, but it is difficult to tell for someone with who already suffers depression or bipolar. For me, I think it's just the normal lethargic feelings during winter stacked on top of a depressive episodes I am already having, not something extra to worry about. It certainly doesn't help but it's also not the end of my world.

But like other mental illnesses, SAD has trouble being accepted as a real illness. How many true sufferers get told 'it's normal to feel a little down in winter, there's nothing wrong with you'? This can make the sufferer feel even worse. What they need (like us all) is understanding and acceptance, not the abuse and misunderstanding of the mental illness stigma. 

So if your feeling a little down on those cold, wet and dreary days, your probably just experiencing the normal effects of the weather. But when it starts being more than just a little down and experience some of the symptoms of depression listed above, get yourself out and talk to someone about it. You could be suffering from SAD & major depression, especially if it occurs around the same time each year, whatever the season.

Never forget - you are not alone & there are people around you who can help.

The information contained in this blog can not be considered medical advice. These are only my own thoughts, feelings & ideas. If you or someone you know are having problems with mental illness please seek qualified medical advice.

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