Worst hit are those people who are prone to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or winter depression, which is believed to be caused by lack of daylight. Sufferers become depressed, put on weight, and get tired easily.
Sales of special lights which trick the brain into believing it is summer are 15 per cent up on last year and at an all-time high, while calls to self-help groups have increased and the Samaritans have been handling 10,000 calls a week on their new national helpline. The number of GP prescriptions for anti-depressants is also expected to show an increase.
The chief cause of all the gloom, doctors say, is not so much the cold or the rain as the lack of sunlight, and in January Britain had only 52 per cent of the average for the month, the lowest since records began.
Dr Peter Raven, lecturer in affective disorders at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, said: "From talking to previously diagnosed patients and SAD groups, people have found it a particularly difficult year and have had to use light therapy more often."
The Weather Centre at Bracknell says that the winter has also been exceptional for the number of times it snowed. "Usually we get one fall a year at most, but even here in Bracknell we have had three or four. There were also windchill factors which contributed to the perception of it being a long winter."
The Samaritans' new national helpline which started last August was used an average of 10,000 times a week in January and February, but national outreach worker Di Stubbs says suicides usually increase in the spring. "When everybody is depressed, things are not so bad. But when other people start all their spring activities and you are on your own, it is different."
The biggest problems have been encountered by SAD sufferers, and Dr Pamela Kenealy of the School of Psychology at Roehampton Institute says that symptoms are being treated successfully with light therapy.
David Davies of Full Spectrum Lighting, maker of special lights which operate in the wavebands that more resemble daylight, says his company's sales are up 15 per cent this winter. "Around 86 per cent of people with SAD can benefit and they make a huge difference," he said. "We have had orders from all over the place."Reuse content