“It takes, for some people, a really big effort to wake up and motivate themselves for everyday life. So these symptoms might not be seen by others, but they’re still having debilitating effects on the person.” – Dr. med. univ. László Ürögi, specialist in Psychiatry and Psychotherapy.
As winter approaches, so too does the threat of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a psychological condition triggered by the changing of seasons. Often displaying depressive-like symptoms, it occurs around the same time each year, most commonly – but not exclusively – during the winter months.
In episode twelve of The Kusnacht Practice’s podcast series, we are talking with Dr. med. univ. László Ürögi, Specialist in Psychiatry and Psychotherapy about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Dr. Ürögi reveals the signs that often go unnoticed and the advantages and effectiveness of light therapy in alleviating symptoms. He stresses the importance of physical activity and maintaining social contact to avoid the development of SAD, while underlining the benefits of using online platforms to compensate for ‘social distancing’
Presenter: Hello, we’re here today with Dr. med. László Ürögi, a specialist in Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at The Kusnacht Practice. Good afternoon, Doctor.
László Ürögi: Good afternoon.
Presenter: According to Men’s Health magazine, it is thought that around 10 to 20% of people in the UK, 14% in the US, experience mildly debilitating symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder as the weather gets colder. And 6% of adults in the UK and the US will experience recurrent major depressive episodes with seasonal pattern. Currently, the average age at which SAD symptoms present themselves is 27 years old in both men and women, according to statistics. I think many will be surprised at how widespread this disorder is and how many young people it affects? Dr. László, any idea about this?
LÜ: Yes, I mean, to be honest, to me, it’s not a big surprise. But I understand that in everyday life, these kinds of symptoms could stay in the background. And if you think about your working colleagues, you might not even realise what kind of struggles they’re going through, getting up every morning. And it takes, for some people, a really big effort to wake up and motivate themselves for everyday life. So these symptoms might not be seen by others, but they’re still having debilitating effects on the person.
Presenter: So what sort of signs should one look for, loved ones, or oneself as well, which may indicate SAD symptoms, Doctor?
LÜ: Seasonal Affective Disorder is actually a type of major depressive disorder. And the sufferers also exhibit a lot of associated symptoms, like feelings of hopelessness, and worthlessness, and maybe even thoughts of suicide, loss of interest in activities, withdrawal from social interaction, sleep and appetite problems. Some people have difficulty with concentrating and making decisions, there might be a decreased libido, lack of energy, or maybe even agitation.
So Seasonal Affective Disorder is typically associated with winter depression, but it’s good to know that there’s also a springtime lethargy, or other seasonal mood patterns we find, and they’re also not uncommon. Each individual case can be of course different. But in contrast to winter, SAD people who experience spring and summer depression, may be more likely to show symptoms such as insomnia, or decreased appetite and weight loss, which is just the opposite of the symptoms we might see in a winter depression.
Presenter: How important is physical activity in warding off the effects of SAD and COVID-19 induced mental health issues? Many will reduce exercise due to bad weather, but it is vital that people try to keep up with their fitness, isn’t it?
LÜ: This is really essential that people are continuously keeping on the good work and doing everything they can to avoid a Seasonal Affective Disorder. So what we recommend in therapy, and to all our clients, is that they stick to a fixed schedule and try to maintain all the protective structures, really take a look at their healthy sleep patterns.
What we also recommend is, in order to keep up physical activity, to participate, maybe also, in online activities. There are very good programmes online, for example, for yoga, or working out with your own body weight. Even mental exercises and meditations and relaxation exercises are very good and accessible online.
Presenter: Many experts recommend light box or SAD lamps treatment alongside increased vitamin D doses. Is this something you would agree with Doctor?
LÜ: Yes, certainly. I mean, a lot of our clients also want a treatment that is safe and has few side effects. And light therapy is a really good alternative for increasing the effectiveness of antidepressant medication, and of course, mental health counselling or psychotherapy. It will also maybe allow you to take a lower dose of antidepressant medication if you’re already needing to take it. So light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked also to mood and sleep, so could ease SAD symptoms. Using a light therapy box may also help with other types of depression, sleep disorders and other conditions.
Presenter: So with social distancing rules and lockdowns likely to continue around the world, keeping up social contact, even just via digital communication is vital to help ward off such symptoms, right?
LÜ: Yes, you’re exactly right. Keeping up social contact is essential. Human beings are primarily very social beings and to engage in social activities, even if it’s only online, is vital. Although the COVID-19 situation makes it much more difficult to keep up social contact, I still recommend using online platforms like Zoom or Teams or Skype. And also, if it’s possible of course, keeping the social distance rules to meet people, meet the loved ones.
We really encourage people to find their individual ways to engage with online activities. Also group activities, playing together, having fun together, and of course exchanging information, what we think about the situation and how we’re dealing with it.
Presenter: Thank you, Doctor. And that concludes our meeting today discussing the predicted rise in Seasonal Affective Disorder as COVID-19 winter looms. Thank you very much Dr. Ürögi.