Monday, February 12, 2007

Seasonal Affective Disorder

As I was writing this last week, I looked outside my office window and the bank said it was -2F and the wind chill was somewhere between 10-15 degrees below zero. Bottom line, it's cold, baby! (Picture credit: FridayEve)

In the past, I wasn't a believer in Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. I thought it was as believable as global warming. (Oops! I'm going to get comments on that one.)

People describe this time of year as the "doldrums of winter," where it's just cold, cold, cold as opposed to the "dog days of summer," where it's usually hot, hot, hot.

Around here, people's patience is short and tempers are flaring. A lot of people describe this as having "cabin fever." Maybe it's just this seasonal affective disorder after all. Here's a brief essay from Katie Couric.

In this article from, it describes SAD in kind of a comical way:
If anyone accuses you of being a surly misanthrope between the months of November to February, you can justify yourself with words to the effect of: "Sorry, but I'm suffering from a biochemical imbalance of my hypothalamus triggered by a melatonin deficiency in my pineal gland. So get off my back!"
Is this really a medical condition that requires treatment, specifically medication treatment? There's this report from last summer advocating med treatment for SAD.

What most people ask me about is the mysterious "light therapy" for SAD. "What's so magical about light therapy, doc?" I admit I don't know all about the research on this and the biokinetic process, but in my anecdotal experience, this light therapy thing may actually work.

My question is this: Does blogging count as light therapy? How about excessive television viewing? Hmmmmm.... I'll have to work on that. I'm not a card carrying SAD believer, yet. But, if this cold snap continues around here, I'll have more data to make an evaluation.


sir said...

I'd say that SAD does exist. Studies have been done in the northern most countries of Europe and Russia (Russia does not belong to Europe to those Americans that are not aware of it)
Suicides increase drastically in the month of January in Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Russia and I assume Canada and Alaska too. More Greenlanders go on drunken killing sprees of themselves and others during that month, (now that they can't kill the baby seals...that last part was a joke)
Statistically men are more likely to succeed and attempt it, and it is believed that the primary cause is SAD.
Unless you've lived in those climats where you have extremely dark winters, and sun 24/7 in the summer time, you probably don't understand it.
I do believe that lamps are more affective than meds, as lamps at least are affecting the natural vitamins in the body/brain, where as meds tend to ease symptoms but not fix.
I think it's better to convince the brain that it's getting sunlight, rather than fool the brain, and tell it's alright.
Try living up north, and you'll find out! They've got fantastic aurora borealis

SuperStenoGirl said...

I believe SAD exists but where I am the grass is green, there's still flowers in some spots and the temperatures are mild - warm.

I don't think I could have SAD here. :)

Mind you it poured cats and dogs here today but that still beats 4 ft of snow!

jmb said...

In winter, here in the Pacific Northwest, we go to work in the dark and come home in the dark and it rains most weekends, to boot. Thankfully, I never have suffered from SAD, but know several people here who have been helped by light therapy for SAD.
A physician blogger, Doctormama over at is trying light therapy at the moment and has blogged about it.
Cold and snowy isn't so bad if there's sun, but constant drizzle is mighty depressing.

Donna said...

I've had a certain amount of winter depression all my life. What has helped me most is taking a half-hour walk every day, no matter how cold. My husband and I layer up, put on our Carharts, and walk.

I do, by the way, believe it's a genuine condition.

Anonymous said...

I want to be sure, before I even bring it up, to point out that I'm not trying to attack you.

I'm wondering what are your beliefs on the matter of global warming - is it entirely fictitious, slightly true, etc? I'd be very interested in the opinion of a nonbeliever in global warming, and one who's highly educated.

HP said...

My Finnish friend can confirm the existence of SAD. When she was still living in Finland, she regularly had to have light treatment and that wasn't uncommon either.

alphawoman said...

We must live close to each other in the Mid west. Surprise if you live in beautiful Ft Wayne! I use to suffer from SAD, now I suffer from lots of different depressions..hahah. Truly, the older I become the more I crave sunshine.

NeoNurseChic said...

I believe in SAD - that is, if it is something to believe in or not! One of the things I have noted this year is that I wonder why it is that so many people seem to die in winter? You know of the recent loss I have suffered - but at work, at least 3 other coworkers have lost loved ones. And then I know several others who have had deaths in the family. As I was standing at our friend's graveside with a windchill that felt like -20, I turnded to my mom and said, "Why is it that everyone we have loved has died in the winter?" I have gone to funerals for my grandfather, two uncles, my great-aunt, a friend's father, and several others in the winter. Why is this?

And as for SAD - well, when I went to Penn State, I truly believed in it - and I used to go tanning as my "cure." LOL I know tanning is awful, and I haven't gone in a long time, but I cannot begin to tell you what a huge mood boost that gave me!! It snows there from October to April, and it is bitterly cold.... It just felt like winter would never end...

I dunno what it is - but I do think it is a real thing... hypothalamus is a very powerful thing!! Clusters come from the hypothalamus and a lot of other things, too - I think it has a huge effect on our lives!

Carrie :)

gledwood said...

You can also get hypomanias in spring if you have the full-on version of SAD because it actually counts as a "bipolar" disorder, well as far as I know it does ...

I found your site on that Random Blog button. I'm putting you in my links as I've got to log off in a sec and you've put loads of interesting stuff up here.

I have a blog too but it's quite different to yours. You're most welcome to drop by if you'd like.

I'm at gledwood2.blogspot.

All the Best now

Serial Filler said...

In this part of the world (Northern Ontario, Canada), we tend to be tolerant of short nights and -40 days. We have snowmobiles, hockey, winter carnivals, block heaters for our cars, effective protective equipment, and the belief that cold isn't really cold as long as it is not damp and the windchill factor is within reasonable limits. We appreciate the fact that there are no blackflies or mosquitoes to torment us.

Eri said...

Hi, goog note. Regards!

Mother Jones RN said...

I believe in SAD. Many of my patients do well with light therapy. Does blogging count as light therapy? No, it doesn't, but since blogging is a creative process, I'm sure it's good for the brain.


Dinah said...

You don't BELIEVE in Seasonal Affective Disorder? Do you BELIEVE in non-seasonal affective disorder? What about other mental illnesses?

There's not really any magic to it: if someone has a depression that repeatedly recurs at a given time of year, it gets deemed "SAD." Maybe light therapy is helpful, maybe it isn't ---buy hey, if you don't respond to the first anti-hypertensive, do we not Believe that you have hypertension?
Do you not believe that the patient is depressed? Or do you not believe that they're depressed when they say they are? Or do you not believe that they remember being depressed at this time last year?

Perhaps you're having a little bit of confusion with a mental state, not related to psychiatric illness, know as Cabin Fever ??

Abigail S said...

Yeah, I believe in SAD. I have a family member who's bipolar, and always gets really depressed over the winter months. It's really SAD to see (pun intended!).

I was never really a believer in global warming until this year. We have had a very warm winter here in PA (that is, up until last week).

Natalie said...

My sister whose initials are SAD also has SAD. Anyway, she doea much better as far as being able to get up and go to work when she sits in front of her light. When she doesn't she gets pretty bad. I had a hard time buying into the condition but, looking back, I can see symptoms in her dating back to Jr. High.

Patient Anonymous said...

I completely believe that SAD "exists." Relatively speaking to having Bipolar (and this is speaking restrospectively) I would spiral downward in the fall/winter months and then go way back up in the spring/summer. Things seem to have changed since those days now, however.

I have known (and still do) people that use "light boxes" and do gain some benefit. It does seem to help with their sleep. That further affects mood. Will they work for everyone? Not necessarily but neither do all med combos etc... I do believe that it can be a valuable form of therapy for some.

I have a funny "habit" of when coming home and it's dark, turning every single light on in the house! I don't know if that is a way of me trying to get some more "light therapy" or if I'm just a little odd.

As for global warming, I'll save that one for another day.

Harry L said...

I would definitely say that there is something to SAD. I lived in New York
for 14 years, and just recently moved
to Florida. I cant tell you how much better i feel day to day, and Im sure
the extra hour and a half of sunlight
is a major factor.( Also the warmer climate sure can't hurt either)
Ive always loved going to Alaska or
Maine in the summer and enjoying the long days. I wonder what it would be like to spend an entire summer that far north?

B said...

Is it important to use the light box at a specific time each morning or just sometime in the morning? I found some good advice here too: but I think I need a light box...