by Christine Louise Hohlbaum
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as the “winter blues”, is known to be caused by the lack of sunlight in the winter months. Its symptoms include irritability, weight gain, lethargy, and mood swings.
Experts do not agree as to the prevalence of the syndrome. While some purport that over 10 million are affected in the United States alone, others say that there is a lifetime prevalence of 10%, meaning that 10% of all individuals are affected by the disorder in some way. Regardless of the actual numbers, there is a general consensus that it is a world wide condition that affects millions of people each year.
According to Dr. Arnold Licht, Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry, Long Island College Hospital, Brooklyn, New York, 75% of all SAD sufferers are women. In his view, it is not only light deprivation, but also an “innate vulnerability that lead to the syndrome”. Women are more susceptible to depression over all.
What types of things can women in particular do to combat the winter blues? Dr. Carol Kaufmann, instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, suggests that women in particular should increase their self-care during the winter months. “We are biological-social-emotional- beings Anything we do to increase our internal resources helps the balance of our lives.” Dr. Licht suggests regular exposure to sunlight and exercise. “Natural light is the best even on overcast days, and an outdoor walk in the sun of about an hour is great.” He recognizes, however, that not everyone has that much time outdoors, especially in the winter time when days are short, and the nights are long.
In such cases, Dr. Licht has an answer, too. “Exposure to bright light of 30 minutes daily is best provided through the use of commercial 'light boxes'. This must be done regularly or it will not work. Affected individuals who work in windowless buildings are greatly in need of this type of light exposure.” For more information about “light boxes,” you can visit this Web site: http://www.lighttherapyproducts.com/.
For more severe cases, Dr. Licht reports that an appropriate dosage of medicine and cognitive behavioral therapy can assist SAD sufferers to lead normal lives.
“Some patients,” comments Dr. Licht, “with established patterns do very well by starting their antidepressant meds in late August or early September tapering off with the increase in light with the coming of early spring.”
Luckily for SAD sufferers, winter does not last forever. With a tailored self-care regimen and medication when needed, they can lead normal lives without having to fly South for the winter.
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