Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a distinct form of depression triggered by the reduced level of sunlight during the winter months. As its name implies, the disorder is experienced seasonally and clears up with the onset of spring, which may bring about a mild manic phase. Prevalence increases at higher latitudes. SAD is rare within 30 degrees of the equator.

Seasonal Affective Disorder most often occurs in younger people, women in particular. Many people are not even aware of this diagnosis and do not seek treatment. All seems well again when the depression lifts in the spring. However effective treatment exists for SAD, so nobody has to suffer needlessly during the winter months.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Differences by Gender and Age

Women are diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder more often than men--three or four times as often, according to some reports. However among the elderly the rate of diagnosis is equal between men and women. SAD among the elderly is not common, though. This disorder is most often seen in young adults, although it can occur at any age.

Treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Reduced sun light triggers Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it has been found that simulated light can effectively treat it. So-called light therapy uses light boxes, such as this one on, to correct the depression brought on by SAD. Light boxes emit balanced spectrum light at a brightness many times that of conventional indoor lighting. While not as bright as sun light, these boxes are able to trigger the same mechanisms inside the brain that regulate mood.

Light boxes are typically used daily during the winter months for sessions lasting, on average, 30 minutes. The box is placed at a specific distance from the person, who must keep his or her eyes open without wearing sun glasses. For individuals with photosensitivity, a lower power light box may be used (with longer sessions), or sessions may be broken up into shorter durations.

Consult with a medical professional before using a light box. Improper use may not effectively treat Seasonal Affective Disorder and may cause unwanted side effects, including eyestrain, irritation, fatigue, and mania.

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