How-to detect, stop Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms

Feeling sad lately? Winter may be to blame. The short, icy days and cold, lengthy nights in the months to come are enough to make anyone desperately crave the return of the blaring summertime sun.

Feeling sad lately? Winter may be to blame. The short, icy days and cold, lengthy nights in the months to come are enough to make anyone desperately crave the return of the blaring summertime sun.

But those suffering from symptoms more severe than simple disdain should look to Seasonal Affective Disorder as the cause for their dismay.

Depression, tiredness and lack of energy are just a few of the symptoms related to SAD, triggered by a decrease in the amount of sunlight that usually occurs during late fall and winter months. SAD is a form of depression that causes people to seek therapists, drugs and expensive devices for cures.

“SAD is one disorder in which its victims experience symptoms linked to depression . . . hopelessness, change in appetite, and decrease in productivity and creativity,” said David A. Baron, chairman of the psychiatry department. “Although these symptoms can greatly alter one’s life, most patients are able to be cured.”

However, recognizing symptoms and making the connection to SAD is often difficult because symptoms resemble other disorders.

Norman E. Rosenthal, one of the founders and first researchers of SAD, devised a way to help those searching for answers to their sudden moodiness and increase in appetite. In an excerpt from his book, The Winter Blues, on his Web site, he offers an at-home survey, the Seasonal Pattern Assessment Questionnaire, that will determine how seasonal you are

Included in the survey is a list of everyday functions for which you choose the amount of change recognized from summer to winter months. Based on your score and guidance from Rosenthal’s book, you will be able to determine whether outside treatment or help is necessary.

“There are a number of treatment options available when it comes to curing SAD,” Baron said. “The type of treatment depends solely on the person.”

SAD is a depression that stems from an alteration in one’s internal clock or circadian rhythm, Rosenthal said. This rhythm is geared by a brain chemical called melatonin, which is secreted in the hypothalamus section of the brain.

Melatonin controls a person’s body temperature, hormone secretions and sleep cycle and is produced mainly during hours of darkness. Because late fall and winter months are subject to less light, there is an increase in the amount of melatonin produced, which can mean significant changes for some.

“Not everyone is affected by the change in melatonin levels. It differs from person to person,” Baron said. “But for those who are, there are options.”

According to the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association, the three most common treatment options are light therapy, antidepressants and counseling. While each works in different ways, light therapy is effective for up to 85 of patients.

Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, is a treatment involving a small portable device that contains fluorescent bulbs or tubes. This box emits a light that is brighter and stronger than regular household lights because its purpose is to resemble the sun. Patients using light boxes for therapy will sit in front of the device for a period of time until symptoms dissipate.

The exposure to the bright light is supposed to slow the production of melatonin in the brain and essentially improve the symptoms. The device costs anywhere from $99 to $360, according to True Sun LLC, one of the leading light therapy box manufacturers.

Junior nursing major Macheline Lindor said she has heard of SAD but was never too aware of her own bodily changes to make a connection.

“I knew that SAD existed, but I am not that observant, so I wouldn’t make a clear connection to my liking sunshine to my having a disorder,” she said. “I know I like to be in the sun. It makes me happy, whether it means doing my schoolwork in the living room where the most sun comes in or just being out because it’s sunny.”

Kendra Howard can be reached at

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