Suffering from SAD will be even more of a challenge this winter

Winter can be a tough time for the two million people across the UK suffering from seasonal affective disorder. As darkness creeps into the afternoons and an autumnal chill settles in, many people will begin to experience a low mood, feelings of hopelessness and lack of energy for prolonged periods. This year, the cold season approaches ominously amidst the ongoing cost of living crisis and absurd energy price hikes. As well as the financial difficulties, and the physical threat of going cold and hungry, there will be significant psychological consequences to the upcoming struggle of the next few months. Whilst depression is acknowledged as a medical issue influenced by chemical imbalances in the brain, it would be naive to ignore the external factors that cause people to suffer psychologically. Under the current Tory government and the strain of capitalism, the fact that so many people in the UK suffer from SAD can be tied to the fact that winter is becoming increasingly harder to survive. Many of the recommended methods and lifestyle changes for battling seasonal depression are not as feasible during the current economic crisis. Much of the advice revolves around thinking positively, ‘finding joy’ and ‘managing stress levels’. This is a concept increasingly difficult in a near-dystopian environment of unlivable wages, warnings of power blackouts and the threat of an imminent nuclear war. The common SAD symptom of feeling despair is not as likely a chemical imbalance as it is a proportionate response to our current, uncertain circumstances. 

Creating a safe haven in the home is key to coping with the discomfort of winter - a method inhibited by the inability of many to heat their houses. Similarly, the suggested use of sunlamps and light boxes is yet another added cost and use of energy on top of already soaring bills. The combination of low wages and high prices will erase the possibility of affording even the smallest comforts and pleasures that usually get people through winter. Forget easy meals such as frozen dinners and takeaways, or going to the pub with your friends. In fact, many pubs are at risk of closure altogether due to the extortionate energy bills. Another suggestion for battling seasonal affective disorder is doing more exercise - an activity much less accessible in the winter months. Exercise in the daytime is limited by working hours, yet going for a jog in the dark evenings - especially for women - is too dangerous. The alternative is paying for a gym membership which, at an average cost of £40 a month, will not be affordable for many of those struggling financially this winter. It is therefore an inevitability that the current economic crisis will worsen symptoms of SAD - people cannot afford to socialise, enjoy their free time or even keep warm. This is not something that can be healed by exercise or vitamins but by real societal change. 

Feelings of ‘hopelessness’ attached to disorders such as seasonal depression are not solely medical factors but an example of the real time psychological effect of politics. A recent Guardian article explores the idea that we are misdiagnosing mental health as purely medical issues, rather than viewing them as a reflection of societal problems. There are bound to be more privileged people experiencing SAD symptoms solely as a result of the unavoidable changing of the season. Yet, for many, suffering from seasonal depression is not just an issue of disliking the cold, but also fearing whether or not you can cook hot meals or avoid freezing. Whilst low temperatures and a lack of sunlight cannot be avoided - certainly in the UK - much more can be done to help people cope with the winter. Part of the reason why winter is so mentally difficult for many is because it heightens the intensity of capitalism and the drudgery of everyday working life. Your life is spent in the dark, heading to work before the sun has risen and only returning home once it has set. You feel the pinch of low wages even more when forced to pay for extortionate energy bills - as well as the yearly pressure to consume at Christmas. In a society where winter is more bearable for the wealthy, working class people are bound to mentally suffer from its financial and physical challenges. The combination of the upcoming winter with the current economic turmoil will affect the most vulnerable groups in society. Recent government payouts will not be sufficient in supporting elderly people, asthmatics and those with other health conditions and disabilities. By abandoning those most at risk, this Tory government may have to add a mental health crisis to their pile of numerous other disasters. 

Article by Gemma Brown


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