Do you ever feel as if you have “your own portable black cloud”? Some people find they feel depressed in winter, or suffer from "winter blues".

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern. SAD is sometimes known as "winter depression" because the symptoms are usually more severe during the winter.

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.

Symptoms of SAD can include:

  • a persistent low mood
  • a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
  • irritability
  • feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
  • sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
  • craving carbohydrates and gaining weight.

For some people, these symptoms can be severe and have a significant impact on day-to-day activities. You should consider seeing a GP if you think you might have SAD and you're struggling to cope. Treatments include:

  • lifestyle measures – including getting as much natural sunlight as possible, exercising regularly and managing your stress levels
  • light therapy – where a special lamp called a light box is used to simulate exposure to sunlight
  • talking therapies – such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or counselling
  • certain antidepressant medicines.

Help is available. If the short, dark days are getting you down, the NHS has information on SAD. Some charities also provide information on seasonal affective disorder, including Mind’s page on SAD and Anxiety UK’s page on SAD.

Disclaimer: If you are worried about specific health issues, please seek professional medical advice.