There’s just something about winter that makes people feel sad and blue. While "winter blues" are common, "winter depression" - also called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) - is a serious condition that affects over ten million Americans.
Most people who suffer from "winter blues" experience tiredness, lethargy, sluggishness, and difficulty getting out of bed. SAD sufferers experience more serious forms of these symptoms, to the point that their depressive episodes affect their work and social relationships. People with SAD usually experience depression and lethargy in winter, but for a small fraction of the population, SAD-like symptoms also manifest themselves in summer. This is often referred to as reverse seasonal affective disorder (RSAD).
SAD is more prevalent in countries and areas that experience colder and longer winter seasons. In Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Norway, 20% of the population suffers from SAD. Among Northern Americans, nine percent of people living in the northern US suffer from SAD compared to 1.5 percent of people living in Florida. Studies also show that more women than men are affected with SAD. In some cases, SAD develops into more serious psychological disorders like serious depression and bipolar disorder.
SAD is a serious condition, and may sometimes require hospitalization, and psychiatric treatment may be necessary for people who may suffer from suicidal tendencies. Scientists point out that the possible causes for SAD may include imbalances in neurochemicals like serotonin and melatonin, which regulates circadian rhythms (24-hour body clocks). SAD may also be related to changing amounts of daylight during different seasons, where daylight in winter is particularly low, especially in countries and communities in higher latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere.
In 1984, Dr. Norman Rosenthal of the National Institute for Mental Health pioneered the use of bright light therapy among sufferers of SAD. A very bright lamp, called a light box, is used by many SAD patients to counteract the effects of irregular circadian rhythms in order to relieve or even cure SAD. Some SAD patients also take antidepressant medication, and also use negative air ionization treatments; however, before embarking on any treatment for SAD, it is important for patients to undergo a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation and testing.
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