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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.
Whether or not your depression seems to be seasonal, it's ok to ask for help at any time – you don't need to wait to see if there's a pattern.
This page covers:
The first step is usually to visit your GP. If you're given a diagnosis of SAD, this will be based on whether your symptoms repeatedly follow a seasonal pattern, usually for two or more years – it doesn't depend on the specific season or time of year when you're affected.
Our guide to seeking help for a mental health problem has information about talking to your doctor about your mental health, including what might happen at the appointment and making your voice heard.
"I was well into adulthood before I began to recognise a pattern. Initially I noticed that I often took more sick leave from my job in the winter months."
There are many different talking therapies that can be effective in treating depression. Our pages on treatment for depression and talking therapy and counselling have more information on these treatments, and information on how to access them – including through the NHS, charities or privately.
"My energy levels fluctuated between autumn/winter and spring/summer. I absolutely dreaded the onset of darker days and felt that I was literally shutting down."
"Antidepressants have helped to put me in a place where I was more able to cope with counselling. This required a lot of hard work and I had to accept a completely different way of thinking."
Some people say they find it helpful to use a light box – a device that gives off strong white or blue light – or a lamp, or an alarm clock that simulates dawn. This is sometimes called light therapy.
The NHS doesn't provide light therapy because there is currently insufficient evidence to show it works, although some people find it helpful. More research needs to be done to establish whether it is effective and why some people find it helpful and others don't.
Light therapy might not be suitable for you if you're also taking St John's wort, as St John's wort can make your skin more sensitive to light.
If you decide to try using a light box or lamp, you may wish to discuss this with your doctor who can advise on whether it's suitable for you to try. If you have existing eye problems or you use a light box regularly, it's also advisable to talk to an optician and to have regular eye check-ups.
"Using a light box wasn’t perfect but the change was tangible... a real shift and I began to cope better with the dark days and didn’t have the all encompassing desire to get back into bed and stay there."
You might also decide to try other treatments alongside, or instead of, talking therapies or medication. These might include:
Your doctor may be able to refer you to some of these. You can also contact your local Mind to find out what they have available.
"I approached my GP and reported my symptoms but, as my antidepressant was increased, this just added another degree of sedation."
Your doctor should offer you regular appointments to check how you're doing, and see how well any treatment is working for you. Different things work for different people, and if a particular medication or talking therapy doesn't work for you, your doctor should be able to offer an alternative.
If you've tried a range of treatments and none of them have helped, your doctor might refer you for further support, for example from a community mental health team (CMHT).
For more suggestions, see our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem.
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.