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Seasonal Affective Disorder

Also known as Recurrent Major Depression with Seasonal Pattern, Seasonal Affective Disorder or S.A.D., as it has been termed, is a form of depression which is chronic during the winter months. I think this is an important topic to touch on now, as the days get shorter and we approach the winter season. I read on that 1 in 15 people suffer with S.A.D. from September to April every year. 1 in 15 people! That means that in my college class of approximately 60 people, it probably affects around 4 of my classmates, and it needs to be addressed and talked about as openly as treatment and prevention of the winter flu is talked about.

The reason I wanted to write about this is because, I know from working in a pharmacy, and from talking with patients, that it is an issue that people may be vaguely aware of but too afraid to talk about. As a pharmacy student, the science behind this really interests me. The counselling side of this, whereby the pharmacist could play a very important role in the initial recognition of the disorder is also very important to me, and something I will look to emphasise in my career. The trust people have in their local pharmacist, and the ease at which they can have a private conversation with this member of the healthcare profession (ie long opening hours and no prior appointment necessary), means pharmacists are in a prime position to raise awareness of , and help to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Unfortunately, unlike the flu, there is no vaccine to prevent you from getting S.A.D, but if people are more of what it is, and that yes, it is actually a real thing not just a fancy way of saying you hate dark days and cold weather, then we are one step closer to ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. It is a genuine medical condition that is diagnosed based on a recurrence of the depressive episodes during two winters or more, and may require pharmacological treatment. It can be so disabling to some that they cannot function without drug therapy, and there is no shame in that. Others may suffer from a milder form and not require pharmacological therapy. Either way, it is important to recognise the symptoms that either you or someone you care about, may be experiencing, and to address the issue. Open conversation is the only way to reduce the stigma around having major depressive episodes, whether they are seasonal or not. It is important for the person suffering to know that there is nothing wrong with them and that many others feel the same way. They need to know there are ways of dealing with it and people you can talk to about it.


The Symptoms

A major depressive episode is diagnosed if the person in question has suffered from a depressed mood consistently for two weeks or more. How to recognise a depressed mood:

1. Feeling sad, empty or tearful

2. Apathy/loss of interest/excitement towards usually stimulating/almost all activities for most of the day, nearly every day, again for two weeks or more.

If either of these two criteria are identified, and four of the following, then the person has major depressive disorder.

1. Significant weight loss when not dieting/weight gain of more than 5% of total body mass in the space of a month

2. Insomnia/hypersomnia

3. Psychomotor agitation (mental tension/anxiety)or psychomotor retardation(slowing down of thought) most days

4. Feeling lethargic - for no apparent reason, feeling fatigued and unable to carry out ordinary daily tasks due to exhaustion, and feeling this lack of energy almost every day.

5. Feeling worthless/feeling inappropriate guilt

6. Reduced ability to concentrate

7. Recurrent thoughts of death/suicidal thoughts

If these symptoms follow a pattern of reccurence during the winter season (september-april, and usually at worst around December, January, February), and then a bit of a burst of energy around March, then Seasonal Affective Disorder may be diagnosed. Not everyone will be prescribed antidepressants following a diagnosis, depending on severity of the disorder. There is no need to feel belittled or not strong enough if you have been diagnosed with major depressive episodes (depression), whether it is affected by the season or not. The strongest thing you can do, is talk about how you are feeling. There is nothing to be afraid of, and you are not the only one suffering, and by talking about it, you make it easier for others to talk about it too.

About two-thirds of all depressed patients contemplate , and approximately 15 percent complete suicide

About two-thirds of all depressed patients contemplate , and approximately 15 percent complete suicide

About two-thirds of all depressed patients contemplate , and approximately 15 percent complete suicide

Look out for eachother. If you notice a classmate, colleague, family member, friend, boyfriend, girlfriend... anyone in your life who withdraws from usual activities for more than just a day or two, and suffers from any of the above symptoms and signs, make sure to take the time to talk to them, or a family member that you know they can be more open with if approached by them rather than you. It's not your problem, but you can make it your duty to look out for others. You could be saving a life. As well as death by suicide, those who suffer from major depressive disorders are also more likely to die from other causes such as heart disease or cancer, and can be associated with/lead to other conditions which compromise overall health including eating disorders, anxiety and drug addiction. I am providing this information because I do not want this disorder to be confused with having a bad day or a bad week, or with being cranky. Do not isolate someone because they have stopped being as cheerful as normal. They're not 'dry' or no fun if they're never up for a night out any more. Take the time to see if they're okay. Start the conversation. They may not even be aware that they have withdrawn as much as they have, and may be blaming themselves for their apathy/exhaustion. Encourage them to open up, or if it is yourself that is feeling like this, do not be afraid to talk to someone. There is always a way out. Do not make drastic decisions x



*note nerd alert lol*

There is a theory of depression called the Monoamine Theory and basically, it hypothesises that depression is caused by a functional lack of receptors in the brain for the neurotransmitters (chemicals that cause impulses to be transmitted in the brain and elsewhere in the nervous system) that positively affect our mood in the long term, such as noradrenaline and serotonin (you may have heard of serotonin mentioned as the 'happy' hormone - although it is not a hormone). There are theories that then explain the cause of 'manic' disorders to be due to a functional excess of such receptors in the brain. There are still a lot of unknowns regarding causes of depression, further confused by the fact that antidepressants work differently in different people.

Regardless of the cause of depression, there is no need to feel as though you are insufficient or there is something wrong with you. Be amazed at how strong you are to deal with it, and to talk to others about it when you are ready.


This disorder affects very little people within 30 degrees of the equator, with much higher prevalence in the Northern Hemisphere. So yes, it certainly affects a larger proportion of us here in Ireland as well as in other countries that have shorter, darker, colder days in the winter.

In terms of treatment, it is important to talk to your loved ones and to a health professional, to guide you in the right path for treatment, and to discuss options with you. Remember that treatment will be guided by you, you will not be forced to take medication, you will have a say in how you wish to improve your symptoms. I have provided a number of different helplines below if this topic affects you or someone you care about. The whole point of this post was to raise awareness about Seasonal Affective Disorder and ensure that those affected by it do not feel alienated and know that there is help available to them. All you have to do is ask.

Sending positive thoughts your way,

Lauren (ginger)


The Samaritans:

Pieta House:

- 24-hour suicide helpline: 1800 247 247

- text HELP to 51444 .


- 1890 303 302 (seven days a week, from 10am to 10pm)

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