Some people suffer from symptoms of depression during the winter months, with symptoms
subsiding during the spring and summer months. This may be a sign of Seasonal Affective
Disorder (or "SAD"). SAD is a mood disorder associated with depression episodes
and related to seasonal variations of light.
SAD was first noted before 1845, but was not officially named until the early 1980’s.
As sunlight has affected the seasonal activities of animals (i.e., reproductive
cycles and hibernation), SAD may be an effect of this seasonal light variation in
humans. As seasons change, there is a shift in our “biological internal clocks”
or circadian rhythm, due partly to these changes in sunlight patterns. This can
cause our biological clocks to be out of “step” with our daily schedules. The most
difficult months for SAD sufferers are January and February, and younger persons
and women are at higher risk.
Regularly occurring symptoms of depression (excessive eating and sleeping, weight
gain) during the fall or winter months.
Full remission from depression occur in the spring and summer months.
Symptoms have occurred in the past two years, with no non-seasonal depression episodes.
Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, has
been linked to SAD. This hormone, which may cause symptoms of depression, is produced
at increased levels in the dark. Therefore, when the days are shorter and darker
the production of this hormone increases.
Phototherapy or bright light therapy has been shown to suppress the brain’s secretion
of melatonin. Although, there have been no research findings to definitely link
this therapy with an antidepressant effect, many people respond to this treatment.
The devise most often used today is a bank of white fluorescent lights on a metal
reflector and shield with a plastic screen. For mild symptoms, spending time outdoors
during the day or arranging homes and workplaces to receive more sunlight may be
helpful. One study found that an hour’s walk in winter sunlight was an effective
as two and a half hours under bright artificial light. If phototherapy doesn’t work,
an antidepressant drug may prove effective in reducing or eliminating SAD symptoms,
but there may be unwanted side effects to consider. Discuss your symptoms thoroughly
with your family doctor and/or mental health professional.
Connect with MLH
Appointments and Referrals 1-888-CARE-898 (1-888-227-3898)
Reps are available Monday-Friday between 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. ET.
For more information, call 1.866.CALL.MLH.