By Riva Preil
Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD (pun intended), is a subcategory of major depression connected with one season only (varies per person). These symptoms include lethargy, hopelessness, social isolation, irritability, increased appetite and sleep, and decreased libido. The season most commonly associated with SAD is the winter, hence the condition’s nickname “winter depression” or “winter blues.” A proposed theory behind the pathophysiology is that exposure to light (or lack thereof) plays a huge role in the development of SAD, especially the winter version. In fact, many have benefitted from bright white light therapy treatment with a lightbox that emits 10,000 lux (a much higher amount than a typical incandescent bulb). Treatment includes sitting 30-60 cm away from the lightbox (but not staring directly into the light) and is recommended for 30-60 minutes/day. Alternatively, light exposure mimicking sunrise (“dawn simulation”) has proven very effective as well. (See link to article below for evidence-based research about the positive effects of light therapy from BMS Psychiatry.) Other forms of treatment for SAD include medications (SSRI and Modafinil), talk therapy, adequate sleep and exercise, and healthy eating. In addition, Dr. Alfred Lewy of Oregon Health and Science University suggests that SAD is associated with an altered circadian rhythm. Therefore, he recommends daily afternoon melatonin supplements to help re-align the sleep-wake cycle. Proper diagnosis and treatment of SAD is crucial because an estimated 20% of SAD sufferers have or will go on to develop bipolar disorder. Therefore, if you or someone you know can relate to the symptoms described above, please speak with an appropriate health care provider to help alleviate symptoms.