Shining a Light on Seasonal Affective Disorder
If your mood is as dark as the gray, winter skies and you feel as if you’re living the lyrics of a blues song, it may help to shed light on your daily life.
An estimated 16 million Americans experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as the hours of available daylight diminish in winter. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that is highly treatable, according to Steve Kopp, Ph.D, family therapist and Director of Genesis Psychology Associates, Davenport.
“Seasonal Affective Disorder is very real for people who experience it. Many people go through it every winter and call it ‘the winter blues,’ but it’s more than that,’’ said Dr. Kopp “SAD is a subset of depression disorders.’’
Not unlike other species of the animal kingdom, humans experience physical and behavioral changes as daylight hours grow shorter. For some people, Dr. Kopp said SAD becomes a human version of hibernation.
“Some of the symptoms are fatigue, sleeping more, exercising less, weight gain, carbohydrate craving, irritability and a general malaise,’’ he said. “Sex drives also can diminish.
“What sometimes happens is that someone in the family notices that the person with SAD is grouchy and just isn’t feeling well. Maybe the person is
sleeping in more and is skipping work. Someone suggests, ‘maybe you
should talk to someone about it.’ It’s not unusual at this time of the year to see patients whom we diagnose with SAD.’’
Dr. Kopp said an increase in exercise, a healthy diet and a consistent sleep pattern can help SAD sufferers. Sufferers should also try to spend as much time as possible in natural sunlight. In more severe cases, light-box therapy or anti-depressants may be recommended.
Light-box or light therapy is suggested as a replacement for daylight lost during the winter. Dr. Kopp said there are many light-box therapy products available. Light-box therapy units that shine at 2,500 to 10,000 lux are suggested. Lux is the metric unit of measure for illuminance of a surface. White fluorescent lighting is recommended. These units deliver a high level of lux while reducing glare that makes these levels uncomfortable.
“Often the diagnosis is a relief to individuals with SAD. They now understand their winter blues,’’ Dr. Kopp added. “However, with our busy schedules and dreary weather, many struggle to find the motivation to change. For those individuals, several treatment options are available.’’
Statistically, Dr. Kopp said women are four times more likely to be affected with SAD than men. Younger adults – mid-20s through 30s – are also more susceptible than other age groups. Distance away from the equator is also a large factor in the occurrence of SAD. SAD affects about 1% of individuals living in Florida, whereas, it affects about 9% of the population in Alaska.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of SAD, Dr. Kopp recommends getting evaluated by your primary care provider or a behavioral health specialist as treatments started prior to the spring have greater effectiveness. Many people who become moderately to severely depressed will not come out of their depression “naturally” when the light returns. As the spring improves the mood of those around you, people with SAD often feel like they are suffering more and struggle even more in the spring.
Dr. Kopp and Genesis Psychology Associates can be contacted at (563) 355-2577.