As part of my desire to help those with mental illnesses, I want to focus on one specific illness, once a week and try to bring it to light so more people can understand that these things are not just in our minds, but reality and just as real as if they had Diabetes, or a broken bone. On a personal level, and living with Major Depression, I understand where the misunderstanding comes from, and while I do not have all the answers – I will do my best, in these brief overviews, to help others see what “we” see.
Like many mental illnesses, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is not easy to explain and to others can not be seen, as another disease may.
SAD is what some people refer to as “The Winter Blues,” however, the winter blues are a milder form of SAD, and may affect more people than is actually known – after all who hasn’t had a bout of cabin fever and frustration after a long winter of being cooped-up within four walls. SAD, however, is a mood disorder with symptoms of depression increase during the dark winter months, (peaking between December and February) and subsiding as the days get warmer and longer.
Because of the cause of the disorder, the severity of SAD often depends on where a person lives and their distance to the equator – with no discrimination between the North and South Hemisphere’s. Also, according to the studies, the onset of SAD occurs in most people between the ages of 18 and 30 and more commonly in women.
A diagnosis of SAD will commonly be made after a three year cycle of depression that lifts during the spring and summer months. Since SAD occurs during the months when the days are short, there is not much time to get outside in the natural – this increases the symptoms of SAD. Knowing that the increasing sunlight can reverse SAD, treatment most often includes what is called Photo or Light therapy and has been shown to be up too 85% effective when used at 10 times the intensity of a common light bulb, for four hours a day. In extreme cases, an anti-depressant may be used.
SAD can complicate life and be pushed to the wayside as many people battled depression during the same time, often due to stress and the holidays. These reasons, however, should not be used to push the symptoms aside.