Seasonal Affective Disorder … the detriment of daylight savings
Every year around daylight savings, millions of Americans develop Seasonal Affective Disorder, a form of seasonal depression.
“SAD” is more than just an emotion: It’s also a serious mood disorder that, ironically, causes the very sentiment it denotes. With the clocks recently turned back, darkness usurping sunlight and temperatures plummeting, an unlucky few may become laden with a debilitating form of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.
SAD happens like clockwork every year in tandem with the changing seasons.
It creeps up in the fall and worsens throughout the winter, with patients feeling down, irritable and lethargic to a stifling extent. About 5% of the population suffers from SAD, according to Dr. Norman Rosenthal, psychiatrist and author of the book, “Winter Blues.” He added that about 20% of the population is nursing some form of winter troubles.
The difference between SAD and the milder winter blues is in the extent the condition interferes with people’s lives. “If you’ve got SAD, then it’s disrupting your life you are having a hard time getting to work in the morning and maintaining relationships,” Rosenthal told the Daily News.
The majority of these SAD-sufferers are women with a three or four to one ratio of women to men enduring the disorder, according to Rosenthal. “We speculate it’s because of the female sex hormones, since you don’t see that frequency difference with women until they start to menstruate,” he said.
Rosenthal and his team were the first to identify SAD back in 1984 and he has since spent the last three decades of his career studying culprits and cures for the crippling condition. For him, the issue is personal. “I am strongly seasonal myself,” he said.
When Rosenthal moved to the U.S. from South Africa in the summer of 1976, he felt like he was in his element amid the lengthy days. “I was making lots of plans and taking on lots of projects and then daylight savings came and I didn’t know what hit me,” he said. “I struggled through the winter until spring came and things started to get better.”
Rosenthal and his team would eventually put together a light therapy trial, studying the biological effects that light had on humans suffering from the enigmatic ailment. “We couldn’t believe it, but these people began to feel much better and it was so out of the box because nobody was thinking of light,” he said.
Today, the primary course of treatment is the use of a light box. (www.sunbox.com)
Patients sit with the apparatus each morning for an allotted amount of time, as it emits rays that emulate natural sunlight. The device has helped millions, but the catalyst behind its capabilities remains somewhat obscure.
One theory is that the natural sunlight boosts the brain’s serotonin levels, a feel-good chemical that regulates mood, according to Rosenthal. Another theory, he said, is that it works via melatonin, a hormone that helps control circadian rhythms and is suppressed by light. Mental health specialists like Rosenthal have also started to implement additional forms of treatment to quell the crushing effects of the disorder — like exercise, eating healthy, meditation and cognitive therapy.
Years of research have validated the severity of the syndrome but some still believe the affliction is either trivial or a figment of the imagination, Rosenthal said. “Some people don’t like the dark weather but they give themselves a pat on the back and say, ‘I get up, I don’t like it, but I force myself,’ to a partner, who perhaps has a more difficult time not realizing the difference in biology between them,” he said.
“The biggest misconception about the disorder is that if you’re having a bit of difficulty but you’re managing, then everybody else who’s suffering is just whining and moaning and that’s simply not the case.”
BY BRITTANY ROBINS NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Tuesday, November 10, 2015