Seasonal affective disorder

Adapted from ABC Hobart article by Georgie Burgess, appearing here.

As the days get colder and shorter, many of us become susceptible to the winter blues.

In Tasmania, six to 10 per cent of the population experience some form of winter depression — about 3 per cent will suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

SAD is a condition experienced only at certain times of the year, particularly in autumn and winter.

While there’s limited research, Tasmania’s rates are 10 times higher than the national estimate of one in 300.

From keeping active to modifying social media use, there are ways to beat the winter blues and knowing when to seek help.

When the blues are a seasonal pattern

Psychologist Tina Hale. ABC Hobart: Georgie Burgess

Diagnosed seasonal affective disorder is recognised by health professionals as a specifier.

The symptoms are different to winter depression and include hyper-stimulation, a lack of sleep and weight loss.

“Anxiety is more heightened rather than the depression aspect,” psychologist Tina Hale said.

Experiencing the winter blues did not necessarily mean someone was suffering seasonal affective disorder, she said.

“The winter blues is the subclinical picture, where people show some of the symptoms but they may not tick all the boxes for a full diagnoses [of SAD].”

Ms Hale said people might feel lethargic, have a changed appetite and notice different sleep patterns.

“If someone is experiencing difficulties at work or school and their withdrawing is distinctive, they should certainly see their GP for help and a referral.”

If the symptoms were there but to a lesser degree, Ms Hale said it was always good to have a healthy routine.

“Get outside, go for a walk, stay active.”

When it’s more than just the blues

Dr Bastian Seidel. ABC News: Gregor Salmon

General practitioner Bastian Seidel said it could be difficult to prevent SAD.

Dr Seidel is based at the Huon Valley Health Centre in the state’s south where, like many parts of Tasmania, the average winter temperature is 12 degrees Celsius.

“Every year we are seeing patients who are genuinely affected,” he said.

“They show signs of depression or low mood, they are lethargic and don’t have any motivation.

“The darker the days are and the colder the days are, the more severe those symptoms become and people are really struggling.”

He said women and younger people were more affected by SAD, and people new to a cold climate could also be at risk.

“A lot of mainlanders who come from sunnier states like Queensland, they move to the Huon Valley to retire and in the first few years they often struggle.

“We’re not sure why SAD really develops; it might be that our neurotransmitters are out of balance because of the lack of sunlight.”

Dr Seidel said it could also be linked serotonin levels and hormones like melatonin.

It can be treated by exposure to sunlight, light therapy, medication and counselling.

He said people should make the most of sunny days, even if it’s short walk outside.

“We get concerned about office workers who sit inside and maybe don’t have a window and don’t get any exposure to sunlight.

“We know that artificial light can sometimes help as well; it’s often the preferred treatment option.”

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