Mummy Social Learns… About Seasonal Affective Disorder

I recently caught up with Hannah, mum of two (Mollie and Mason) who suffers from S.A.D. As this is something that not many people know about I was keen to talk to her to find out more about it and raise awareness.

Thank you for talking to me Hannah. Can you please explain to me what this is?

S.A.D stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder, it’s when seasons affect your mood due to the dark cold nights, and lack of sunshine. It’s also called ‘winter depression’.

Do you know what causes it? And why some people suffer from it and others do not?

I believe it’s something to do with a chemical imbalance in the brain. I’ve always disliked being cold and I absolutely hate the dark nights. I live for the summer! Nothing beats feeling the sun on your face and those long summer evenings.

The NHS website quotes that ‘The exact cause of SAD isn’t fully understood, but it’s often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days. The main theory is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly, which may affect the: 

  • production of melatonin – melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy; in people with SAD, the body may produce it in higher than normal levels
  • production of serotonin – serotonin is a hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep; a lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of depression
  • body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) – your body uses sunlight to time various important functions, such as when you wake up, so lower light levels during the winter may disrupt your body clock and lead to symptoms of SAD’

Is it a condition that is formally diagnosed? If so, what are the symptoms?

It was diagnosed the second year I suffered. The first year I was very nearly sectioned, however instead I had a lovely mental health nurse come to my house twice a week and I was put on antidepressants. It coincided with my first pregnancy, I was 8 weeks pregnant when it all started and the doctors weren’t sure if it was my hormones or actual depression, so my S.A.D wasn’t actually diagnosed until the following year in October/November. When I relapsed.

The symptoms can include:

  • persistent low mood
  • loss of interest in normal day to day activities
  • irritability
  • a feeling of despair, failure, worthlessness
  • lack of energy / feeling lethargic
  • sleeping for longer periods of time and then struggling to get up.

Can you please try to explain it makes you feel?

Have you ever read or heard of the ‘big black dog’ if not google it, it describes exactly how the S.A.D makes me feel. You feel hopeless, heavy, unable to sleep, you completely overthink everything and your brain convinces you something terrible is going to happen. Then you become fixated on that thought. Looking out of the window to see the night drawing in makes it even worse. You don’t want to go out, and you especially lose your lust for life. You become snappy, argumentative and quite honestly just curl up into a ball and stay in bed.

How do you cope with this especially having such young children who will obviously not understand how you feel?

I have had counselling and CBT, I’ve also been on some fantastic medication, but for me having friends and being able to talk to someone is priceless. I also know that as soon as I start to feel these feelings, to head straight to the doctors and seek help, they’re normally fantastic and really supportive. I find running my Instagram pages helpful too, to take my mind off things.

Have you found any ways of relieving the symptoms?

Talking. Talking to my best friends. Also using a few things I learnt from CBT, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can smell and 2 things you can taste because it’s in the here and now and so it brings you back into the present. Also allowing yourself to think the irrational thought, and let it pass through your mind. I mean, if I told you don’t think of a pink elephant, what’s the first thing you think of?… a pink elephant. So instead of NOT thinking about things, just let the mind think that thought- I hope that makes sense. I also find crafting helps, I make cakes and I’ve set up a small business making and selling celebration cakes which I love doing. I haven’t tried light therapy although I would love to give it a go.

Is there much support out there for sufferers of S.A.D?

Well, I felt supported by my GP and she at the time put me forward for counselling, so I guess it depends how good your GP is. However, I’m not aware of any talking groups, which is a huge shame as a problem shared is a problem halved’. My friends and family help me get through a lot, they’re all aware of the issue and they’re nothing but supportive. My family and babies mean the world to me.

Hannah’s two Instagram pages are @barkhams_cakes and @mollie_mason_and_me

Interview by Danni, Mummy Social Team