A winter sun above trees in a cloudy sky

Living with SAD: practicing cultures of seasonality to 'feel light' differently

About our project

Picture the scene. It's one we can all identity with, at some level: late October. The clocks have gone back. The mornings are colder and certainly looking darker. Light itself feels like a precious and endangered thing. A shift is underway. Marked by a downturn in energy and mood, it's tougher to get up for work, feels harder to think clearly, or to muster much in the way of enthusiasm. During the worst spells, there's an unmistakable feeling of sinking ...

Feelings associated with the changing seasons, and moods that seem to be governed by the nature of the weather overhead and related qualities of natural light, are a phenomenon known to us all. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is an intensified form of this lived experience that, for considerable numbers of people in the UK, can be debilitating and limiting, resulting in emotional challenges, lowered mood, and feelings of anxiety. This research project enters the lived experience of SAD, seeking to examine its occurrence and impacts in individuals' life-worlds. Working closely with people who self-identify as experiencing depression on a SAD spectrum, the research team will develop narrative, creative and therapeutic-educational resources more fully to examine and reflect SAD experiences, and to build a self-help programme to be hosted by the NHS-approved website, 'Living Life to the Full', to which over 40,000 people register annually. The programme will offer a range of well-being interventions to mitigate against negative experiences of lightness-darkness and changing seasons, in both urban and rural environments.

The research team combines differing skills and approaches, suited to interdisciplinary practice and public engagement. It is comprised of cultural geographers and a creative arts-health practitioner, jointly working with a cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) expert. By focusing attention on SAD as a widely experienced, but poorly understood, affective phenomenon, the research project will have considerable public impact, initiating national conversations about addressing questions of how to live well through altered seasonal patterns and envisaging the sorts of adaptive life skills and cultural tools required for the mental health challenges now associated with global climate change. A network of project partnerships held with national-level organisations will leverage our finding to create meaningful 'national conversations' on mental health, sustainability and climate resilience in the public sector. Our partners - an expert advisory group - will ensure strategic input to the project, and have already helped us identify clear pathways to generate research impact. In future times, we all might be at risk of feeling SAD in relation to changing climate conditions (stormier weather and smoke-filled darker skies) and this project offers targeted resources to help mitigate these affects, as well as offering guided ways to increase creative and embodied connections between people and outdoor environments.