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Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Explains seasonal affective disorder, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.

This page is for family or friends who want to support someone with SAD.

If you are supporting a friend or relative who is experiencing SAD it can be hard to know what you can do to help. This page has some suggestions of things you could try while also looking after your own wellbeing.

Let them know you are there

Lots of people can find it hard to open up about how they're feeling. One of the most important things you can do is let the person you're worried about know that you care and that it's ok to talk about what they're experiencing.

Their self-esteem is very low in the winter months, particularly November and December, as the days get shorter.

Support them to seek help

Supporting your friend or loved one to seek help can be really important. It can help to remind them that SAD is a recognised condition like many others, and that they deserve help and support.

You can read our information on treatment and self-care for SAD, and encourage them to seek help from their GP. See our pages on how to support someone else to seek help for more information.

I can see my family members with winter SAD shutting down through autumn, until in winter they are prone to afternoon naps, shutting themselves away alone in a room, and have a lack of interest in anything.

Don't be critical

If you've not experienced SAD yourself, it can be hard to understand why your friend or family member can't just 'snap out of it'. Try not to blame them. They are probably being very critical and harsh towards themselves already.

It's also important to not put pressure on them to feel or behave a certain way, for example expecting someone to be active and particularly happy in the summer.

Be sensitive when talking about the weather

It's common to describe certain types of weather as being good or bad, for example talking about 'nice weather' or describing rainy days as 'dreary' or 'miserable'.

This could make someone with SAD feel criticised or alone, so it might really help if you consider how you talk about different types of weather.

Ask them what helps

SAD can affect people in different ways, so it's important to ask your friend or loved one what support they would find most helpful, and what has or hasn't helped them in the past. They may just want your emotional support or there may be specific practical things you could do that could help them cope.

What people need can also change over time, so it is a good idea to check in with them regularly to see if anything has changed.

Help them to plan ahead

If you have some idea when their symptoms are likely to start, you may want to plan things in advance that might help. For example, you could:

  • Schedule time to offer practical support
  • Plan activities to help them relax
  • Make sure there will be people around to offer support

It may also help to avoid planning any activities during the period that they find particularly difficult, and to talk together about what demands they can cope with. For example, you might decide to avoid having guests during difficult times.

I try to encourage my winter-suffering family members to think ahead and get helpful things organised for during their difficult time before winter starts, while they still have the energy and ability to do so.

Stay in touch

SAD can cause people to feel very isolated. For example, if they don't feel up to joining in with social activities or they struggle to find things they can do during difficult times.

It could help to suggest things they might find easier to do such as, in the case of someone who feels worse in hot weather, doing indoor activities like watching a film together.

Look after yourself

There are times when supporting someone can be challenging. So it's common to feel overwhelmed at times. It's important to look after your own mental health too. It may help if you:

  • Set boundaries and don't take too much on. It's important to decide what your limits are and how much you are able to help them. Your needs matter too and you'll want to avoid becoming unwell yourself. See our pages on how to manage stress for more information.
  • Share your caring role with others, if you can. It's often easier to support someone if you're not doing it alone.
  • Talk to others about how you're feeling. You may want to be careful about how much information you share about the person you're supporting, but talking about your own feelings with someone you trust can help you feel supported too.
  • Find support for yourself. The organisations in useful contacts are there to support you too. It could also help to explore peer support and talking treatments.

For more suggestions, see our pages on how to cope when supporting someone elsemanaging stress and looking after your wellbeing.

This information was published in April 2022. We will revise it in 2025.

References and bibliography available on request.

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