Overview

Seasonal Affective Disorder (a.k.a. Winter Blues) is a serious and very treatable form of depression that occurs each year at the same time, usually starting in fall or winter and ending in spring or early summer. This mood disorder is triggered by the reduction of sunlight in winter months. While those who move to New Jersey from sunnier climates may be prone to this, many who live all their lives in New England and northern climates suffer from SAD as well. The first episode of winter blues is likely to appear in individuals in their ealry twenties. A true diagnosis of SAD can be made after an individual has experienced winter depression two years in a row. However, depression is a serious illness which impacts many systems in the body as well as all aspects of a person's life. It is important to get professional consultation and treatment as soon as possible, and not suffer through two years of this winter illness to be sure it is indeed SAD! 

Symptoms

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Depression

Low mood, worse than and different from normal sadness
Negative thoughts and feelings
Guilt and loss of self-esteem
Sometimes hopelessness and despair
Sometimes apathy and inability to feel

Lethargy - fatigue, often incapacitating, making normal routines difficult

Over-Eating - craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods leading to an increase in weight

Cognitive Function
Concentration and memory impairment
Brain does not work as well or quickly
Difficulty concentrating

Sleep Problems
The need to sleep more
A tendency to oversleep
Restless or disturbed sleep
Very early morning wakening
Difficulty staying awake during the day

Anxiety - increased tension and stress is harder to deal with

Physical Health - weakened immune system; more vulnerable to illness

Social Problems
Irritability
Finding it harder to be with people
Less interest in sex and physical contact

Sudden Mood Changes in Spring
Possible agitation and restlessness and/or a short period of hypomania (over activity)
No dramatic mood change but a gradual loss of winter symptoms

Treatment

Increased exposure to sunlight can improve symptoms of SAD. This can be a long walk outside or arranging your home or office so that you are exposed to a window during the day.

If your depressive symptoms are severe enough to significantly affect your daily living, light therapy (phototherapy) has proven an effective treatment option. Researchers have proved that bright light makes a difference to the brain chemistry, although the exact means by which sufferers are affected is not yet known.

This form of therapy involves exposure to very bright light (usually from a special fluorescent lamp) between 30 and 90 minutes a day during the winter months. These light-therapy sessions are best used during the morning hours. Additional relief has been found with psychotherapy sessions, and in some cases prescription of antidepressants.

If you feel you are suffering from SAD, it is important to seek the help of a trained medical professional. SAD can be misdiagnosed as hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, infectious mononucleosis, and other viral infections, so proper evaluation is necessary. For some people, SAD may be confused with a more serious condition like severe depression or bipolar disorder.

However, if you feel the depression is severe or if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, consult a doctor immediately regarding treatment options or seek help at the closest emergency room.

There are no blood tests to confirm the presence of SAD. However, a trained clinician can diagnose the symptoms and suggest therapy options. With the right course of treatment, SAD can be a manageable condition.

HAPPY LIGHT BULBS - These long-lasting bulbs reduce eye strain and resemble true daylight, providing an energizing and pleasing effect that may enhance mood. These are not the strength of bulbs used in light box treatment for seasonal affective disorder. You can purchase 60-watt or 100-watt in the Chapel Office. The cost is $3.00 each. If you order 4 or more bulbs, you may charge your student account.

A LIGHT BOX STRENGTH DESK LAMP can be borrowed for two week intervals and can help you cope with symptoms of SAD or winter depression. See Teresa or Nancy in Scheide Hall.

 Additional Facts and Resources from the American Psychiatric Association