|Seasonal Affective Disorder
Are you BLUE? ~ If you notice periods of depression that seem to accompany seasonal changes during the year, you may suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). ~ This condition is characterized by recurrent episodes of depression in certain months of the year alternating with periods of normal mood the rest of the year. ~ Usually those affected by SAD become depressed in the fall and winter and feel better during the spring and summer. Atypical cases are also known in which the person becomes depressed during the summer.
Most people with SAD are women whose illness typically begins in their twenties. ~ Milder versions of SAD have been reported in children and adolescents. ~ Many people with SAD report at least one close relative with a psychiatric condition, most frequently a severe depressive disorder (55 percent) or alcohol abuse (34 percent).
What are the patterns of SAD?
Symptoms of winter SAD usually begin in October or November and subside in March or April. ~ Depressions are usually mild to moderate, but they can be severe. ~ Only 6 percent of patients with SAD seen at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have required hospitalization, and very few have been treated with electro-convulsive therapy.
The most common characteristic of people with SAD is their reaction to changes in environmental light. ~ Patients living at different latitudes note that their winter depressions are longer and more profound the farther north they live. ~ Patients with SAD also report that their depression worsens whenever the weather is overcast at any time of the year and/or their indoor lighting is decreased.
SAD is often misdiagnosed as hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, infectious mononucleosis, and other viral infections.
How is SAD treated?
Scientists believe that light therapy works by altering the levels of certain brain chemicals. ~ Research has shown that antidepressants such as Zoloft and Prozac may be helpful in treating SAD. ~ Other antidepressants may also be of value.
How is light therapy used to treat SAD?
Side effects of phototherapy are uncommon. ~ Some patients complain of irritability, eye strain, headaches, or mania. ~ No evidence has been produced of long- term adverse effects, however.
What should I do if I think I have SAD?
If your depressive symptoms are severe enough to significantly affect your day- to-day functioning, consult a mental health professional qualified to treat SAD. ~ He or she can help you find the most appropriate treatment for you.
What is the effect of sunlight on mood and behavior?
Observations of the mood-elevating effects of sunlight may also partly explain the high rates of suicide and alcohol abuse in places like Seattle and Sweden, where sunshine in winter is extremely limited.~ To counteract the depressing effects of short winter days, psychiatrists suggest taking advantage of sunlight by scheduling time outdoors each day.
Further reading and resources:
The National Organization for Seasonal Affective Disorder (NOSAD), P.O. Box 40133 * Washington, D.C. 20016; Web site: www.nosad.org.
Sources of therapeutic light products:
Bio-Brite, Inc., 7315 Wisconsin Ave., Suite 1300W, Bethesda, MD 20814-3202; phone: 800/621-LITE (5483); fax: 301/961-6407; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Web site: members.aol.com/biobrite/bbhome.htm
The SunBox Co., 19217 Orbit Drive, Gaithersburg, MD 20879; phone: 301/869-5980 or 800/548-3968; fax: 301/977-2281; e-mail: email@example.com; Web site: www.sunboxco.com
Reviewed by Norman Rosenthal, M.D., National Institute of Mental Health,