Health: Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

May 23rd '18

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) understands that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as ‘winter depression’, is a mood disorder whose sufferers experience depressive symptoms in the winter or, less frequently, in the summer. It reoccurs year after year with normal mental health throughout most of the year. The most difficult months for SAD sufferers tends to be January and February, with symptoms often subsiding during the spring and summer months.


CAP understands that some marketers offer self-care medical devices (such as SAD lights) and other marketers, such as clinics, offer therapies such as Phototherapy (also known as light therapy).


Marketers should check with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) if they need guidance on the classification of medical devices.


What types of claim are likely to be acceptable?  

Claims that therapies and self-care medical devices can be used to treat some of the symptoms of SAD may be acceptable provided they are supported by robust clinical evidence.


Based on the evidence it has seen, CAP accepts that products which emit light between 3,000 and 10,000 lux can relieve the following symptoms of SAD: fatigue or additional fatigue experienced in winter; craving and consumption of additional carbohydrates; feeling anti-social and ‘winter blues’.


Marketers who want to make similar claims should either be able to demonstrate that their products have the same specifications (the same lux) as those products whose efficacy has been established, or hold evidence to substantiate claims with robust clinical evidence.


What types of claim are likely to be a problem?

In 2015, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled against an ad for an Ionic Balance Band because it included unsubstantiated claims that one of the many benefits of the high level ions delivered by the band was the treatment of SAD (Ionic Balance, 29 July 2015).


What about conditions for which medical supervision should be sought?

Because SAD can sometimes be associated with depression (a condition for which medical supervision should be sought), there is a risk that presenting a device or treatment for SAD as being a treatment for depression could be seen to discourage essential medical treatment unless that treatment is carried out under the supervision of suitability qualified health professional.


Marketers advertising therapies and devices should therefore take care to ensure that their ads do not include direct or implied references to depression (The Sound Learning Centre Ltd, 21 September 2011 and Eudemon International Ltd, 3 June 2009).


Source: CAP


Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA. CAP’s Advice Online entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.


How can we help!

Whether or not something breaches the Code in this way can often be a fine line – marketers who are unsure whether their ads are likely to breach the Code are invited to contact the Copy Advice team.


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