Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects about six percent of Americans. Another fourteen percent experience a milder version called winter blues. SAD can lead to feelings of depression during winter months, with the symptoms subsiding during spring and summer. It is related to seasonal variations of light.
Although SAD was first noticed in the late 19th century, it was not formally classified until the early 1980’s. It is believed that melatonin, a sleep-related hormone, is produced in greater levels when the days are longer, and thus darker. Increased levels of melatonin have been linked to symptoms of depression. The most difficult months for SAD sufferers are January and February.
Fortunately, the treatments for SAD can be simple. Phototherapy (increasing the amount of light in a person’s environment) has been shown to help many patients. If you are suffering from mild symptoms, consider arranging your home or your workplace to allow for more exposure to natural sunlight during the day. Also, often just spending more time outdoors during the day can alleviate the symptoms of depression. Researchers have found that an hour’s walk in winter sunlight was as effective as two and a half hours under bright artificial light.
If you are suffering from seasonal depression, talk to your doctor about approaches that can help you. For those who do not respond to light therapy, there are some antidepressant drugs available to help treat this disorder.