is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD can be summarised as a depressive episode that begins
at a specific time of year, is not related to "specific
yearly stressors," like school or seasonal unemployment,
and ends or changes at a certain time of year. Generally,
this depression begins in the fall and ends in spring but
research has shown that SAD affects a few people during the
There are a number of theories, most of which come down to
the simple fact that when the natural light of long summer
days gives way to the short, dark days of fall and winter,
a certain percentage of people become depressed and less able
to function. Studies have shown that the farther from the
equator one lives - and therefore the less sunlight received
during the day - the greater the incidence of SAD.
known that genetics play a role in SAD, since 60 percent of
those suffering SAD have relatives who experience some form
of depression, either seasonal or non-seasonal. Just as in
many other diseases and disorders, from cancer to diabetes
to obesity, it's often who you're related to that leads to
physical and mental illnesses.
suffers from SAD?
The majority of SAD sufferers are women. In fact, research
indicates that from 70 to 80 percent of those who suffer from
SAD are women; the theory is that since women are generally
somewhat more susceptible to depression, incidence of SAD
is higher among them. Some children and teenagers are also
affected by SAD. There is also much research being done with
people suffering from Alzheimer's Disease; one of the symptoms
of the disease is called "sundowning," which causes
a dramatic change in one's mental and emotional state in the
evening and during the night. Combined with the disruptive
effects of SAD, these people are understandably becoming a
focus in the use of light therapy.
SAD symptoms usually appear every year, beginning between
September and November, continuing until March or April. The
symptoms can appear either quickly or gradually in the fall,
and disappear in the same way in the spring. Depending on
the amount and intensity of light, symptoms can arrive and
depart in a period of just a few weeks. If any of these symptoms
recur three years in a row, a doctor will generally make a
diagnosis of SAD, based on a set of standards used by the
American Psychiatric Association:
disruptions - Oversleeping, difficulty staying awake, disturbed
in eating habits - Craving for sweets and carbohydrates, which
often results in weight gain.
- Loss of self-esteem, feelings of despair, apathy.
- Increased tension, along with a reduced ability to deal
- Being unable to maintain a normal routine of daily living;
a sense of constant fatigue.
disruptions - Reduced willingness and desire to be with people.
symptoms may include - Irritability, loss of libido, inability
to think clearly.
The most common treatment for SAD is phototherapy. A very
bright light is used to provide a level of light similar to
that of a clear spring morning. Most people find that sitting
in front of such a light for up to an hour in the morning
provides significant relief. Since the intensity of home or
office lighting ranges from 250 to 500 lux, and the minimum
dose required for effective phototherapy is 2500 lux, one
of the many commercially available products is recommended.
has indicted that as many as 80 percent of SAD-sufferers will
find relief from the use of a light box, even without any
as much time as possible outdoors during the day during the
winter months can be very helpful. In fact, several studies
have recommend a brisk midday walk or a visit to a ski slope
may be effective in relieving some of the symptoms of SAD.
suggested activities include exercise and the scheduling of
regular social events, and dietary changes. In addition, some
doctors prescribe antidepressants to treat the symptoms of