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The winter blues are real and on the increase as temperatures start to drop



While South Africa has a relatively mild climate, we do experience weather changes in winter that might trigger depressive feelings.

According to a 2022 research paper by the Wits/Medical Research Council Developmental Pathways for Health Research Unit (DPHRU), more than a quarter of South Africans suffer from probable depression with higher levels in certain provinces.

The study, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, revealed that 25.7% of South Africans are probably depressed, with more than a quarter of respondents reporting moderate to severe symptoms of depression.

Dr Ashleigh Craig who was part of the research team noted that the prevalence of mental illness was different across all nine provinces, with higher rates in the Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Gauteng and Mpumalanga.

ALSO READ: Depression: research shines light on what could be lesser-known warning sign

Seasonal Affective Disorder aka ‘The Winter Blues’ explained

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) has been described as an episode of depression that occurs annually at the same time each year. According to Life Mental Health, most often, people experience SAD in autumn as the days get shorter. You can, however, also experience these symptoms during the summer months.

While South Africa has a relatively mild climate, we do experience weather changes in winter that might trigger depressive feelings. In the west of the country, days become colder, rainy and gloomy, while on the highveld, the weather gets dry, pale and dusty.

Dr Marisa Roets, a psychiatric specialised nurse manager at Life Poortview says SAD symptoms are not related to obvious stressors like a break-up, a bereavement or being unemployed.

“Usually SAD symptoms are mild, but for some, it can be debilitating and affect their personal and professional lives,” Roets stresses.

Symptoms of SAD to look out for

With the high rate of depression in South Africa, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms and to seek help when and if you notice them.

  • Feelings of hopelessness or sadness
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts, fear of dying
  • Restlessness, irritability, or anger
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering things or making decisions
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and favourite activities
  • Hypersomnia, also known as oversleeping
  • A change in appetite, especially an excessive craving for sweet or starchy foods
  • Weight gain
  • Low energy
  • Avoiding social situations

Tips to deal with this type of depression

  • Exercise is critical for good mental health. Brave the cold and schedule 30 to 60 minutes of daily exercise.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet and avoid processed, fatty meals.
  • The amount of sunlight you are exposed to can also be a contributing factor to SAD. Get out of the house and enjoy the sunshine for at least 15 – 30 minutes a day.
  • Make sure you get enough sleep.
  • Maintain a healthy schedule and routine as it creates a sense of familiarity and balance.
  • Make an effort to engage with family, friends and loved ones. Supportive relationships can reduce unwanted stressors and provide you with emotional support.
  • Get professional help. Depression is one of the most treatable mental health conditions.

NOW READ: Silent screams: The tragic epidemic of teen suicide

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