Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Q & A: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Question: What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Answer: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a pattern of significant depressive symptoms that occur and then disappear with the changing of the seasons. SAD is sometimes called "Winter Depression" or "Winter Blues". SAD occurs when days get shorter around November and reduce with the onset of Spring. Incidentally, SAD can have a "reverse seasonal pattern" where depression occurs in summer months.

Question: What's the difference between Seasonal Affective Disorder and other forms of depression?
Answer: SAD is a subcategory of Major Depressive Disorder. Symptoms, though, occur seasonally, so symptoms come in cycles..

Question: How many people are affected by SAD each year?
Answer: SAD affects millions worldwide. The illness is more common in higher latitudes (locations that are farther north or south of the equator) because of their distance from the sun. Research also shows that women are more prone to SAD than are men.

Question: What are the symtpoms of SAD?
Answer: Symptoms include many of the same symptoms of depression: sadness, anxiety, lost interest in usual activities, withdrawal from social activities and an inability to concentrate. The difference though, is that these symptoms resolve each Spring and tend to occur again in late Fall.

Question: What is the cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Answer: Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, has been linked to SAD. This hormone, which may cause symptoms of depression, is produced at increased levels in the dark. Therefore, when the days are shorter and darker the production of this hormone increases.

Question: What kind of treatments are available?
Answer: Phototherapy or bright light therapy has been shown to suppress the brain’s secretion of Melatonin. Antidepressants are helpful as well. For mild SAD symptoms, spending time outdoors during the day or sitting in a pool of sunshine indoors are helpful. Studies have shown that an hour’s walk in sunlight was as effective as two and a half hours under bright artificial light. Daily exercise has been shown to be helpful, particularly when done outdoors. Keeping a healthy sleeping and eating pattern is also recommended.

Question: How to Seek Treatment for SAD?
Answer: If you've noticed a pattern to your depression, make an appointment with your physician. Medical tests and exams should be up to date to rule out any other reason for depressive symptoms. Thereafter, a consult with a psychologist, social worker or psychiatrist is necessary. A treatment plan of light therapy, medication, talk therapy or a combination of them may be recommended.


Seasonal Affective Disorder Association:

Society for Light Treatment

The Circadian Lighting Association:


Wanda's Wings said...

That is very interesting. My psychiatrist has even suggest light therapy treatment for my bipolar.

Jill said...

I was surprised recently to find that there is an alter-ego to SAD... for my entire life, I have experienced feelings of being down and low energy during the summer (or more specifically, during periods of intense heat and sunlight) and when I was a kid, I would beg my mother to send me to summer school so that I wouldn't constantly be confronted by sun and heat. Now I compensate by staying indoors with the AC up and blinds down during the hottest months. My doctor suggested last summer that I had "reverse" SAD, which makes sense.

Dr. Deb said...

I use a blue spectrum light,but find that indirect sunshine works best for me. Light Therapy doesn't work for everyone, so make sure you give yourself time to try different lights. Checking out if the light source has a return policy or trial experience can help in this regard.

Yes, it is important to get the reverse SAD info out there. Many people, even professionals, don't know about it. I'm glad you finally got a proper diagnosis for your SAD.

TK Kerouac said...

Is blue spectrum a different type of light?
I definitely feel an urge to sleep longer, to cocoon and hibernate in the winter months.
thinking is slower, and everything takes an effort.

Mz.Elle said...

Taking lots and lots of vit. D in addition to all you mentioned is also extremely helpful. I take 5000IU during the darkest months and it does wonders. I taper it off according to my needs. I obviously need less in the lighter months.
Plus vit D is so important for other things!

lightfeather said...

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It is with a joyful heart that I make the announcement of the birthing of my first published book, "Little Bird You Are Perfect."

Little Bird lives in the magical location of the red, red rocks of Sedona and is most beautifully illustrated by artist Richa Kinra, who has brought my children's book to life. Below, you will find a synopsis the book. I would be honored if you would visit my book page at Barnes and Noble online and consider a purchase for the children, parents, and grandparents in your life.

Little Bird You Are Perfect by Shelley Joy
Little Bird awakens to a perfect day. It is going to be his first real taste of the real world and he is so excited! What he finds during his adventure,is something entirely different. His excitement about his perfect day turns
to sadness when he realizes that he is different from all of the other birds he encounters and is reminded of his differences by a group of more grown up birds who tease him. A visit by Native American Sorceress Kanka, changes Little Bird’s outlook on himself as he gazes into the pools of her eyes and he sees himself as the Great Spirit sees him, perfect in every way! Just like Little Bird, YOU are perfect too!

Dr. Deb said...

There ARE different kinds of lights. I suggest doing a bit of research in finding what might be best.

How fantastic. I will order mine now!!

Awake In Rochester said...

I’m doing very well depression wise, but tend to get depressed in winter. I’ve asked my counselor to help me with SAD. At first he said that he would look it up. Then he said that I might not have SAD, it could just be that I’m indoors a lot in winter and not interacting as much with people. He has a MSW and frankly I don’t think he knows much about it. Is there a test I can take that will show me if I have SAD?

What a minute. I think I have melatonin pills in my med cabinet for the times I can’t sleep. So too much of it can cause depression? Maybe I should throw them out? (I don’t use them much anyways.)