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.
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.
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.
"I can see my family members with winter depression SAD shutting down through autumn, until in winter they are prone to afternoon naps, shutting themselves away alone in a room, and a lack of interest in anything."
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 or put pressure on them to get better straight away – they are probably being very critical and harsh towards themselves already.
It's common to describe certain types of weather as being good or bad, for example talking about 'good 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.
"Their self-esteem is very low in the winter months, particularly November and December as the days get shorter."
SAD can affect people in different ways, so it's important to ask what things 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.
Everyone will need different support, and the form this takes can change over time, so talk to your friend or family member about what help they might find useful and what they feel able to do themselves.
"I try and recruit my partner in making the main meal a couple of times a week and freeze leftovers to reduce pressure."
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 help, plan activities to help them relax or just make sure people will be around to offer support.
It may also help to avoid planning any activities during that time that they might 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 (counselling, light boxes, planned events to look forward to etc) before winter starts, while they still have the energy and ability to do so."
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 – for example, in the case of someone who feels worse in hot sunshine, doing indoor activities like watching a film together.
"I try to encourage them to get out of the house during daylight hours. They can forget that anything like that can be helpful."
It can sometimes be really challenging to support someone, and it's common to feel overwhelmed at times. It's important to look after your own mental health too. For example:
"I found that as the day went on I would literally want to get into bed... it was an absolute struggle to stay up and be sociable just with my family and often I lost the battle."
This information was published in February 2019. We will revise it in 2022.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.