Winter Blues?

You could have seasonal affective disorder

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Feeling SAD this winter?

You’re not alone. You and 38 per cent of the North American population may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as the “winter blues.”

Unlike clinical depression, SAD sufferers experience normal mental health throughout most of the year but experience a lack of energy, feelings of misery, moodiness, and sleeping problems during the winter.

Norman E. Rosenthal, pioneer for SAD research and author of Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder, believes prolonged overcast weather contributes to the depressive symptoms. Because more time is spent indoors, patients exercise less, overeat, and experience vegetative episodes that mimic clinical depression.

“I think most people that study mood disorders accept that this is a real problem that some people have,” said Elizabeth Hayden, a Western professor who researches mood disorders. “[It] resembles major depression, but some individuals seem to be especially affected by seasonal changes.

“There isn’t a good understanding in terms of why someone would have this problem versus depression that occurs the rest of the time.

“So it’s not like we’ve been able to figure out that seasonal problems with moods have a different underlying cause than other forms of depression. We can’t make that distinction at this point and time.”

Aside from eating healthier and exercising, severe forms of SAD can also be treated by unusual bright-light therapy methods.

According to the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association, a worldwide support organization for SAD, exposure to full-spectrum artificial light for up to four hours has actually worked for 85 per cent of cases. By sitting two to three feet away from a 2,500-lux light box, as opposed to an average domestic light bulb of 200 to 500 lux, SAD symptoms are reduced significantly.

“There are different treatments applied to [SAD] that wouldn’t ordinarily be used with someone who has a seasonal pattern depression,” Hayden said. “These white panels have been developed for people who seemed to have this seasonal onset.”

SAD is more common in northern countries like Canada because winter days get shorter. It’s important to take advantage of any sunny periods by taking a one-hour walk or going for a quick run. SAD sufferers also tend to avoid social contact and lose interest in sex. Finding ways to redirect your attention elsewhere, such as a night out with friends or taking on special projects, can significantly decrease your winter blues.

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