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Are You a SAD Person?

Updated on April 22, 2013

Are you SAD?

More to the point are you, like millions of other people in the world, suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Signs and Symptoms

  • Body aches
  • Crying
  • Decreased activity levels
  • Depression
  • Difficulty waking up in the mornings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Overeating, especially of carbohydrates
  • Poor sleep
  • Tiredness,
  • Weight gain
  • Withdrawal from social activity

Not Recognized

SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder has not long been recognized as a medical condition. It was first reported and discussed in the 1980’s by Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D. and his colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health. Even though the condition is now an official diagnosis it is often not classed as a separate disorder and is instead applied as an add-on to major depressive incidents or bipolar episodes in patients who suffer from those conditions.

Sheffield in the rain
Sheffield in the rain | Source

What Causes It?

It is thought to be caused by inadequate bright light; especially during the winter months. In the northernmost part of Finland approximately 9.5% of people are sufferers. This would correlate because winter is the longest season, lasting 200 days and the polar night, where the sun does not rise above the horizon, lasts for 51 days. Cloud cover is also thought to contribute to the symptoms of SAD.

It is thought that this year in the UK (2013) there will be an increase in SAD sufferers in the winter months. This is due to the fact that 2012 was a poor summer with the least sunshine in a quarter of a century. To make matters worse, this was followed by an unusually prolonged winter, with less than a total of 94 hours of sunshine in January and February. In 2012 the total sunshine hours for that time of year was around 108 hours. March is not quite over at the time of writing but already the UK is down by almost 50% on it's usual level of sunshine. The prognosis for a scorching summer is not looking promising either. So with all this lack of sunshine there is little wonder then that lots of people will be hit by the effects of seasonal affective disorder!

Studies, carried out by the University of Warwick have shown that lack of Vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) may not contribute to the incidence of SAD although it has been previously linked to the disorder. Low levels of serotonin are thought to be a major contributor. Serotonin is a naturally occurring chemical found in the brain, it helps to bring about feelings of calmness and well-being. Everyone’s levels drop in winter due to the lack of sun but some people are particularly deficient. These SAD sufferers are thought to be acutely sensitive to the changes in levels of sunlight.


What Can Be Done About It?

Often medication for depression is prescribed and can be helpful. SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Uptake Receptors) such as Sertraline, Fluoxitine and Paroxetine are very effective for treating the condition.

Another remedy is Light Therapy where sufferers sit in front of a specially manufactured light box for a period of time each day – usually 30 – 60 minutes. The brightness of these boxes is approximately 25 times more than a conventional light source. The bright light minimises the production of Melatonin which causes sleepiness and increases the production of Serotonin which enhances the feel good feeling.

Diet is also used to control SAD with consumption of carbohydrates being found to be quite effective.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT and counselling are increasingly being used as a treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder.


Shine a Light (in your ear?)

A new product on the market to alleviate the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder are Ear-buds made by Valkee, a Finnish company. According to the company it is the brain that needs the light, not the eyes so they recommend that the earbuds; which contain a bright light, be worn for 10 minutes a day. The device looks rather like an iPod and it may seem an odd thing shining light into your ears but trials in Finland have shown amazing success; with 9/10 severely depressed people gaining full relief in 4 weeks.

Valkee Ear-buds are available from the company website They have also begun appearing on EBay and Amazon with prices ranging from £150 to £190.


  • Pressure Headaches
  • Ear, nose and throat symptoms
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Dizziness
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Lack of concentration
  • Eye Symptoms


Another Disorder Which May Be Linked

Some people who suffer with SAD could also be suffering with a condition known as SBS or Sick Building Syndrome. The symptoms of this are alongside.

The last seven items on the list are less obvious than the previous ones but they can be important contributors to general workplace sickness levels and SBS.

Bad design can cause physical problems such as injury, back pain or repetitive strain injuries if the furniture and workstation is not designed for the size of the office and conditions are cramped.

Electrical equipment and particularly fluorescent lighting can cause workers to feel drained and have headaches. Electromagnetic Fields generated by computers and other electrical equipment can cause fatigue, inability to concentrate, numbness, prickling and weakness in joints, thyroid symptoms, headaches and a host of other symptoms.

An office or building which is too hot or cold can cause workers to feel drained and exhausted. In both cases the body has to work hard to maintain its temperature at the right level.

High levels of noise can affect productivity as the employee gets distracted by the noise. Headache and a feeling of being drained is common in noisy environments.

Stress is not only associated with heavy workloads but also with all of the problems listed above. If someone is struggling along in a poorly designed office they are bound to feel stressed.

Humidity can put a strain on the body just as extremes of temperature can; leading to the employee feeling drained and exhausted.

The symptoms are often worse in the winter months which could suggest a link with SAD

What Causes It?

The causes are many and varied but include the following:

  • Chemical and Biological pollutants
  • Poor cleaning and sanitary procedures
  • Badly maintained cleaning equipment
  • Dampness
  • Moulds
  • Mites
  • Pollen
  • Bacteria and Viruses
  • Heavy Metals
  • Chemicals
  • Building construction materials
  • Other Pollutants
  • Poor design
  • Fluorescent lighting
  • Electrical Equipment
  • Temperature
  • Noise
  • Stress
  • Humidity


Can anything be done about it?

If several people are suffering from the same symptoms it would be reasonable to assume that SBS is present and a thorough Health & Safety and Environmental inspection should be carried out to check general cleanliness, cleaning equipment, heating and ventilation systems, office equipment and use of chemicals.

Measures which can be taken immediately are:

Opening windows so the building does not overheat

Providing fans

Adjusting the lighting/heating levels

© Susan Bailey 2013 All Rights Reserved


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