Friday, August 21, 2009

SAD: Do you need to lighten up your living spaces?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression or winter blues, is a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms in the winter or, less frequently, in the summer repeatedly, year after year. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. SAD is not a unique mood disorder, but is "a specifier of major depression"

The US National Library of Medicine notes that "some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and crave sweets and starchy foods. They may also feel depressed. Though symptoms can be severe, they usually clear up. The condition in the summer is often referred to as Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder, and can also include heightened anxiety. There are many different treatments for classic (winter-based) seasonal affective disorder, including light therapies using full spectrum lights, anti-depression medication, ionized-air administration, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and carefully timed supplementation of the hormone melatonin.

What causes SAD?
Your heartbeat, blood pressure, hormones, breathing and other bodily functions rise and fall in a 24-hour pattern called circadian rhythm. For some people, decreased exposure to sunlight throws off their circadian rhythm and can lead to symptoms associated with SAD.

It's not clear why some people get seasonal depression and others don't. But scientists believe that reduced daylight may boost the body's production of melatonin. Melatonin is a sleep-related hormone that may cause symptoms of depression.

What are the symptoms?
Common symptoms of SAD include:

* Symptoms of depression, such as fatigue, low self-esteem, loss of interest in normal activities and withdrawal from family and friends
* Weight gain and cravings for carbohydrates, especially sweets and starchy foods
* Oversleeping or trouble waking up in the morning

A doctor may diagnose SAD if these mood changes have occurred during late autumn and winter for at least three years, with normal or high mood during the spring and summer.

Because the symptoms are similar, SAD is sometimes mistaken for low thyroid (hypothyroidism), low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), a viral infection, severe depression or bipolar disorder.

How is SAD treated?
First, talk with your doctor or mental health specialist about your symptoms. If he or she finds that you may have SAD, proper treatment can be suggested.

If you have mild symptoms that don't disrupt your life, getting more exposure to light may improve your mood. Try to spend an hour or so outside on sunny days, or arrange your office or home so that you are seated near a window during the daytime.

If your symptoms are more severe, you may need bright light treatment (phototherapy). For this, you sit in front of a special light box each morning for half an hour or longer. The light box emits bright white light that is about 10 times stronger than regular lights.

Phototherapy is highly effective for most people with SAD. If it doesn't completely ease your symptoms, your doctor may suggest the addition of counseling or antidepressant medication.


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