SAD the days are getting shorter… so prepare yourself!
2017 Farmers’ Almanac predicts cold and snowy winter… along with depression
It’s been such a hot summer but what does that mean for winter? The 2017 Farmers’ Almanac released its prediction for this winter and let’s just say, we promise not to complain about the heat anymore.
PREPARE FOR A WINTER OF DISCONTENT
By Kathryn R. Gerhard, MSW
Shorter days have always brought certain individuals unpleasant moods. Even Shakespeare refers to the “winter” of discontent. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychotherapists commonly refer to a pronounced negative response to shorter days as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Up to 25% of Americans suffer at least some negative response to shortened daylight, sometimes referring to their symptoms as “winter blues” or “cabin fever”. Symptoms of SAD may include:
- Trouble concentrating or focusing effectively
- Feeling depressed, fatigued, avoiding exercise
- An afternoon slump in energy, craving more carbohydrates, and weight gain
- Sleeping more hours than normally
- Lost interest or enjoyment in activities normally a source of satisfaction or support
- Being more forgetful, less social,
- For women prone to both SAD and premenstrual difficulties, symptoms more debilitating than those attributable to either problem alone.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is more prevalent in the U.S.A. the farther north from the equator an individual lives. Actually, some individuals experience their first episode of SAD when they move further north from the equator. Women and younger individuals are prone to SAD, more often than men and older populations. Many people who live in far Northern countries routinely use light therapy.
Laymen are aware of light therapy treatment as a potential source of relief for seasonal affective disorder. Consumer Reports, and Newsweek have both covered the subject of light therapy treatments for SAD. The Veterans Administration is currently using light therapy to improve the lives of military personnel. Many clients who would never consider starting medication to remedy a mood, no matter how much productivity and comfort they lose each year, welcome the idea of a fast acting treatment with little to no side effects.
Experts believe that shortened daylight may be the mechanism that causes changes in melatonin and serotonin levels in the brain, changes which in turn produce the unwelcome seasonal mood changes for those with SAD. Mammals need sufficient sunlight received by their eyes, on a regular schedule, to function optimally. (When blind patients were formerly enucleated for hygienic reasons, these unfortunate individuals would lose the ability to experience circadian rhythm properly.) When client depression appears 1) only in the fall or winter, and 2) there is no past history of mania at any time of year, light therapy treatment should be recommended.
The shortest path to quick relief from SAD is an effective light therapy box used 15-30 minutes in the morning.
Patients should be reminded to seek out reputable light therapy companies who adhere to safety standards, as the internet now offers potentially dangerous light therapy boxes at cut-rate prices. Some cheaper lights have effective therapeutic ranges of only 2 to 3 inches, an impractical distance to sit from a lamp. Lights should be UV filtered, so that negative wavelength of light does not reach the eye and possibly damage eyesight. The reputable companies measure the light’s output, and recommend the optimal distance between patient eyes and the light source. Any reputable dealer in light therapy devices will provide honest information not only on lumens /distance of therapy provided by each lamp, but will provide any service later needed, for decades of relief from seasonal affective disorder.
Neal Owens, President of the SunBox Company, represents one of the oldest, most trusted manufacturers of UL-approved light therapy devices. His staff often receives calls from individuals saying “my doctor said that I should call you about getting a SunBox, but doesn’t know a lot about the different types.” Getting a prescription for a light box may help a patient receive insurance reimbursement for all or part of the cost of the light unit.
Patients, who might be resistant to using medication for depression, will often welcome light therapy. Since the light therapy therapy often provides relief within a few days, this should be one of the first responses considered when a client presents with uncomplicated seasonally-linked depression. The light therapy boxes can be used for decades; replacing the light bulbs every 2 – 3 years keeps the optimum light intensity.
Light can bring joy to patients, as well as clinicians who watch their conditions improve.