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How can SAD contribute to poor mental health?

Earim Chaudry, medical director of men’s health platform Manual has listed some of the main causes for men suffering from the condition, as well as some treatments available that can help this winter.

Many of us are affected by seasonal changes, especially as the days grow shorter and the weather gets colder. It’s not uncommon, at this time of year for Brits across the nation to feel their energy levels deflating. However, for some of us, this can be a sign of something much more serious. 

Sometimes referred to as ‘winter gloom’, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that usually begins in Autumn, and can last throughout winter. Three in every 100 people in the UK are affected – that’s over two million Brits!

While the exact cause of SAD is still largely unknown, the NHS cite reduced sunlight hours as the main contributing factor. While the condition is more common in women, around a third of those diagnosed are men. 

However, men are 20% less likely to visit their GP than women for a health-related issue, meaning conditions such as SAD are going unnoticed and undiagnosed in men across the UK. 

Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Increased Levels of Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone primarily released by the pineal gland at night, and has long been associated with control of the sleep-wake cycle.

People with SAD may produce more melatonin, which can make them more sleepy. As winter days become darker, melatonin production increases and, in response, those with SAD can feel overtired and lethargic, which can contribute to depression.

Lower Serotonin Level

Serotonin is a hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep. A lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels which can be linked to feelings of depression.

Research shows that high levels of serotonin in the brain are linked to elevated mood and feeling happy, whereas low levels of serotonin are linked to the symptoms of depression, including feeling sad, upset, and generally low in mood.

Body’s Internal Clock (Circadian Rhythm)

The human body uses sunlight to time various important functions, including when you wake up, so lower light levels during the winter may disrupt your body clock and lead to symptoms of SAD.

a man holds his head while sitting on a sofa

Treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Dietary Changes

Some changes in eating habits can be beneficial to your overall mood. Vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine vitamin”, is essential for the winter months and should be incorporated into your diet. Foods to include are oily fish, eggs and mushrooms. Supplements can also be taken to make sure you’re getting the right dosage of the vitamin.

Dark, leafy greens, high in Vitamin A, calcium and Vitamin C should also be eaten.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, also called talking therapy, is another option to treat SAD. It can be used to help a person change behaviour, increase happiness, and overcome problems.

The main purpose is to change negative thoughts and behaviours that may be making you feel worse. During psychotherapy, you can learn about your condition, and work with a professional on how to treat this.

Speak with your GP for more information about psychotherapy.

Light Therapy

Some people with SAD find that light therapy can help improve their mood.

The light produced from a special SAD lamp can encourage your brain to reduce the production of melatonin (a hormone that makes you sleepy) and increase the production of serotonin (a hormone that affects your mood), which can in theory help fight depression.

Sunrise alarm clocks, which gradually light up your bedroom as you wake up, are also an option.

Photo Credit – Nik Shuliahin

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