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Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder characterized by depression that comes from the variations of light with the changing seasons. The change affects the person's circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms refer to regular rhythms of growth and activity that normally occur on a 24-hour pattern.
With SAD, circadian rhythms are an internal clock that regulates the body's cycle of biological processes. People who suffer from SAD experience symptoms of depression during the winter months, and the symptoms resolve or subside in the spring and summer months. SAD is also called winter depression.
Here are some seasonal affective disorder facts and information:
Scientists do not have decisive studies of the effectiveness of curing seasonal affective disorder with light therapy -- also called heliotherapy or phototherapy. There are many accounts by patients, physicians, and therapists testifying to light therapy and its usefulness in treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Light therapy is the use of full-spectrum light, such as that emitted from the sun or tanning beds, to inhibit the production of melatonin in the brain. For some, light therapy is treatment enough. For those who do not respond to light therapy, an alternative seasonal affective disorder treatment is the use of antidepressants used under the supervision of a doctor.
The cause of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is in the name. There is less daylight in fall and winter. The lack of sunlight causes SAD. With the lack in sunlight, the skin reacts with excess melatonin. A sleep-related hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, melatonin causes symptoms of depression. It produces in greater amounts during periods of darkness. When days are shorter and nights are longer, the body produces more melatonin resulting in SAD symptoms.
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is caused by a change in the sunlight the body receives. It causes depression in people who may not realize what exactly changed their mood. It is often called winter depression.
The symptoms include typical signs of depression. This includes:
· Sleeping more than normal (a change of several hours more than usual)
· Weight gain
· Feelings of hopelessness
· Irritable or feelings of being angry, with no underlying cause
The key symptom of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is when the symptoms appear. The symptoms occur during the winter months and subside in the spring and summer. Most people who are officially diagnosed with SAD have symptoms for at least two winters in a row and have far fewer or no symptoms during the summer months.
The presence of sad feelings during the winter months is not enough to justify a diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Post-holiday credit card bill shock or cabin fever symptoms are enough to trigger a blue day or two during the winter. There are definite clinical indicators that must be present to diagnose someone with SAD. The person must show symptoms of clinical depression and must have done so for at least two consecutive winters.
A person with SAD changes during the spring and summer months as symptoms disappear, or nearly so. If you think you or someone you care about may have SAD, you should contact your doctor or your local community mental health center. You can find a listing of local mental health associations at the National Mental Health Association's Web site (www.nmha.org).
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|