Beating those winter blues Avoid Seasonal Affective Disorder

Issue: 4 / 2014
We all know the Swiss winter brings us shorter days yet, for around 200 thousand sufferers nationally*, it also brings the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

If the darker days are getting you down, Dr Michelle Write, a British GP with a practice in Switzerland, gives us her expert advice on how to cope. 

What is SAD?

Although SAD is reasonably well known among the general public, its causes are still not very well understood – even by the medical profession, as Dr Michelle explains,

"Basically, SAD is a variant of depression – the episodes of depression occur at the same time each year, usually during the winter months and affects mainly women. We don't fully understand why it happens, though it's thought that it occurs because of less sunlight around during the winter months. That changes the balance of chemicals (principally serotonin) and hormones (mainly melatonin) in the brain. This has a knockon effect for a person's mood. There may also be a genetic tendency. Actually the ‘winter blues' or sub-syndromal SAD is a less severe variant of SAD. SAD can be distinguished from ‘normal' depression by the fact that a person's mood improves during the spring and summer months."

How can we make it better?

Dr Michelle advises exposing yourself to natural daylight each day during the winter months, especially around lunchtime. If you can, try to take a sunny winter holiday. Make sure you get some regular exercise too as it has a positive effect on brain chemicals. She also suggests light therapy as a form of treatment.

"There is a very specific way that the light therapy should be carried out – you need a special light source of at least 2500 lux (about ten times that of ordinary light bulbs). You need to sit a specific distance from the box and for a specific period of time. The risks of light therapy include a theoretical risk of damage to the retina at the back of the eye, so you need to make sure you use a specially designed light box for treating SAD and that you follow the instructions you are given. I would say if you're worried you may have SAD, go and see your doctor to discuss it. Don't just start using light therapy yourself. It's important that you have a proper diagnosis."


*According to the Revue Medical Suisse

Photo: © Vladimir Fedotov,

For more information

You can contact Dr Michelle Wright at Health First, a provider of health related training for the English-speaking community in Switzerland.

Further info on SAD

Author: Catherine Nelson-Pollard

Catherine is a British writer, editor and broadcaster and she lives in Nyon in the Canton of Vaud. She writes about expatriate issues for various UK and Swiss publications. She writes a weekly column in La Côte newspaper and has published a book called "Living along Lac Léman". The book is a collection of these columns and is a light hearted living along the shores of Lake Geneva. She also runs her own website featuring, articles, interviews and updates on living in the Nyon, Morges, Coppet and surrounding areas.

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