Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Many people notice that as soon as the winter months start approaching their mood changes and
they become more depressed, they get more down and blue during the winter months. These people have
SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. When it starts get dark earlier and winter comes closer and closer, these
people become more and more depressed. Symptoms of this disorder usually start in September and can
last until April, but itís the worst during the darkest months. Some of the symptoms are sleeping problems,
overeating, depression, family problems, lethargy and body aches. People suffering from this disorder
usually have patterns early in life and it is much more common in women than men almost 5 to 1.
SAD has been shown to relate to the length of the day. SAD is more common in Northern countries
because the winter days get shorter and shorter as you go farther north. In Florida, less than 1% of the
general population have SAD, while in Alaska as many as 10% of people may suffer from winter
depression. Much of this has to do with the amount of light or lack there of in the winter which changes the
brain chemistry. The optic nerve, which carries light to he rear of the brain for visual processing, branches
off into an area of the hypothalmus called the superchiasmatic nucleus. The light that goes into this area
makes changes in activity all over the body. High levels of light early in the morning regulate production
cycles called melatonin later at night, in the dark. Imbalances in melatonin can lead to problems with other
chemicals that may lead to depression.
The most popular treatment for SAD is light therapy. As little as 30 mins a day under a light box
results in significant improvement in 60% to 80% of SAD patients. The light has a biological affect on the
brains\' hormones and functions. By artificially giving more light during certain times of the day the cycles
can be influenced. An amount of 1500lux is recommended for this bright light. Light above 1500lux begins
to have an effect on respiration, blood pressure, body temperature, the internal clock, and the regulation of
production of a chemical called melatonin (Lighting, 1996). Light levels below this have no effect on any
of these functions, no matter what type of light it is. Research was done by exposing people to light levels
above 1500lux for different periods. Many of the patients with SAD showed improvement from light
therapy, if the treatments were done early in the day. Treatments later in the day, in the afternoon or
evening, showed no change, or made sympt!
oms worse. The user doesnít have to stare at the light but should allow the light to hit their eyes. Other
treatments for depression include antidepressant medications and counseling.
Anyone who may have a hard time getting up in the morning in the dark or who gets gloomy and
tired on rainy days may have very small cases of SAD these cases are not bad though and for the most part
do not need medical attention. People who think they might have a small case of this disorder should try to
spend more time outdoors and exercising regularly in the winter. They should also try to stay in well lit
places as much as possible. This should help them feel better. People who feel they may have a serious case
of SAD should see a physician or therapist familiar with diagnosis and treatment of clinical depression.
SAD should not be self-diagnosed because symptoms could be confused with a wide variety of other
syndromes ranging from diabetes to high-blood pressure. (Lighting lab design,1996)
Seasonal Affective Disorder is very serious and can cause a lot of personal problems and possibly
lead to death. People who think they may know someone who has this disorder should contact a physician
as soon as possible. Though there is no way to cure this disorder there are plenty of ways to deal with it so
you donít have to suffer through the winter season.