Many in Britain are dreading winter. Society needs a radical shift if we are to address the underlying reasons for poor mental health
“Melancholy occurs in autumn, whereas mania in summer,” wrote the Greek philosopher Posidoniusaround 100BC. The ancient Greeks were well aware of the toll that winter darkness could take on mood, as were ancient Chinese and Indian societies. Hippocrates wrote of seasonal depressions in 400BC; Greco-Roman physicians were using a form of sunlight therapy in the 2nd century. Though seasonal affective disorder (Sad) was only named in the 1980s, the effects on mood of “hideous winter” – Shakespeare wasn’t much of a fan either – long predate it.
Anyone who gets Sad, or the winter blues, will be familiar with the dread that the change in seasons can bring. It comes around annually like clockwork, but this year presents extra challenges. “Sad is a huge problem at the best of times, and this is not the best of times,” said Norman Rosenthal, the doctor who named the disorder after research inspired by the effects of winter on his own mood. He is concerned that people already suffering from the effects of a pandemic that has had a dire effect on mental health will find their unhappiness amplified during the coming shorter, darker days.