We’ve all heard of the ‘winter blues’ – the time from November to February when the days are colder and darker and everyone is generally feeling a little more miserable.
But when is it more than just feeling a little low?
Many people pass off their feelings of sadness claiming they are feeling ‘down’ to a certain time of year.
This can be the case for a lot of people, but it’s important not to play down something which could potentially be a lot more serious.
We asked healthcare professionals to shed some light on the important things to look out for, to differentiate between the winter blues and conditions such as depression.
Of course feeling a little low-spirited during winter is to be expected, but if these feelings persist – that’s when it can be something more.
Long-lasting feelings of sadness can be an indicator of depression.
Dr Shamir Patel, pharmacist and founder of Chemist 4 U, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘If you’re feeling “down” most days, for most of the day, it’s likely that you’re experiencing something more than winter blues.’
So it’s important not to shrug it off as down to the time of year.
Dr Diana Gall agrees and says: ‘If you’re low mood lasts for two weeks or more, you should contact a medical professional as this is a sign of depression. If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts then seek help immediately.’
Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is a type of depression that occurs during a particular time in the year. But most people experience it during the winter months.
Dr Shamir Patel says its important to differentiate between feeling downhearted and having a condition, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder.
She says: ‘Winter blues are extremely common, with many of us experiencing low moods when the colder, darker days of winter set in. People typically become gloomier than they would normally feel, but the change in mood doesn’t hinder your ability to enjoy life. Commonly, it clears up on its own in a short amount of time.
‘On the other hand, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression also associated with winter, but with symptoms that are typical of “major” depression, including profound sadness, a low mood, loss of pleasure, irritability, feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness, sleeping for longer and a lack in energy.
‘It affects 6% of the UK population, and for most, it can be debilitating.’
Anyone struggling with severe Seasonal Affective Disorder should consult a GP, but there are also some natural treatments for milder symptoms.
Dr Shami Patel adds that women are four times more likely to be affected by SAD than men – and those between the ages of 18 and 30 are particularly at risk.
She adds: ‘If you have symptoms of SAD, it’s important not to ignore them, as the feelings can last five months or more – which is a long time to be suffering.
‘SAD is quite treatable, and the options are always improving.’
Dr Diana Gall adds: ‘The main difference between winter blues and depression will be the underlying cause.
‘Everyone gets upset from time to time, typically as a response to an upsetting event such as losing a loved one or failing a test.
‘Depression, on the other hand, doesn’t always have a specific cause and will last for much longer – in the case of SAD, it can last an entire season.’
Feeling a bit down once in a while is completely normal. Usually, this can be explained by problems at work or with family life, relationships or friends.
Depression can also come on through stressful life events such as a death, divorce, illness, redundancy or money worries. But depression doesn’t always have a clear cut explanation.
Once again, the thing to remember is to pay attention to how long these feelings of sadness are going on for.
Taking some time to identify a cause may help you come to terms with how you’re feeling, but don’t think you need to justify sadness with a reason.
Sometimes depression can’t be explained so easily.
Compared to the balmy, Vitamin-D soaked summer days, the winter months are long and drawn out and can be a struggle for a lot of people.
But people with mental health problems, such as depression, tend to showcase symptoms which are more extreme than those who are suffering with bouts of low mood.
The NHS breaks down the symptoms of depression into three areas – psychological, physical and social.
In terms of psychological factors, a constant low mood, low self esteem, feeling hopeless, getting anxious and a lack of motivation can all be symptoms of depression.
Physical symptoms can include changes in appetite or weight, disturbed sleep, loss of sex drive and unexplained aches and pains.
Whereas struggling at work, difficulties with family and friends and a loss of interest in hobbies can all be social signs of depression.
But it’s worth noting that symptoms of depression can be complex and are not black and white.
Individuals can experience any of these symptoms and not be depressed – but anyone showcasing these signs for two weeks or more should consult a GP.
It’s also important to talk about how you’re feeling with family, friends or a professional.
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