Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a phenomenon that many people, especially in the Northland are all too familiar with. While I, as a clinical psychologist, see many “seniors” who experience SAD the fact is that the characteristic onset is 18-30 years. Women typically experience SAD more than men.
Latitude appears to be a big predictor of SAD. Frankly, I had rarely seen a case while working in Northern California. However, when I began working in Washington large numbers of people began knocking on my door. “It’s about the light Lucy, it’s about the light”! If you live in a part of the world which gets less light in the winter, you are simply more susceptible. One accepted theory is that without the amount and trajectory of sunlight in the winter months, we do not receive the amounts of Vitamin D our bodies need. Supplemental Vitamin D is often recommended. On the extreme end I have personally known of at least a dozen people who have had such deficient levels of Vitamin D that they needed an IV infusion.
Symptoms include hypersomnia, increased appetite, a craving for carbohydrates, and depressed mood…let’s also include irritability, social isolation, and disinterest in things that used to give us pleasure. To obtain an official diagnosis one needs to have experienced at least two episodes of depressive disturbance in the previous two years. Also seasonal episodes should outnumber non-seasonal episodes.
So if you think you may experience SAD, go see a professional. Treatment includes (among other options) two types of “light therapy”: Bright Light Therapy (BLT) and Dawn Simulation. BLT for SAD is usually used at an intensity of 10, 000 lux for 30-90 minutes. Best results are to use the light within one hour of awakening. One reason for not using BLT in the evening is that it can stimulate the user to the point of disrupting the ability to fall asleep. Like any other “antidepressant” BLT can also propel someone who is prone to hypomania or mania into an episode. The Dawn Stimulation is a devise, which dimly comes on in the morning while your sleep. It gets brighter and brighter with time.
Many people (especially men) who experience SAD often try to minimize either the reality or significance of this phenomenon. Some get caught in the trap of thinking “it only in your head”. Wrong! SAD is real and can have a profound effect on you. As mentioned above, it is important to see a professional. Why? Because, if you are experiencing depression, it could derive from a whole host of reasons. Some reasons are purely physical (like decreased light), some medical, and others from an emotional reaction to life.
There is not only hope out there for SAD, getting help can help you thrive again…Sunshine!
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