What is SAD?

by MuminBusiness

A look at Seasonal Affective Disorder and the use of Light Therapy and other treatments.

So What is SAD?

Well, Sad is a word used daily to describe a feeling of sorrow and unhappiness.  It is also a word used to describe Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  It is a condition which a small proportion of the population suffer from. This is usually around the 15% mark, dependent on where you live.  Needless to say, you are unlikely to suffer from this if you live in the desert somewhere where the sun always shines! However, if you live in countries with prolonged winters, short days and low levels of sunlight at least part of the year, you will know what I am talking about.

Real or Imagined?

Some people think SAD is a made up condition, an excuse for people not to behave normally and perform their daily duties.  I however, am undecided.  I do know that more of the patients I deal with appear depressed at this time of year than at any other time.  

For people who actually suffer from this, the period between September and March is a source of great depression and the inability to function at full capacity.

What do you think?

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A Great Book on SAD

By the Man who recognized the disease - Dr Norman Rosenthal
Winter Blues, Revised Edition: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder

Winter isn’t a “wonderland” for everyone. Every year, millions of us feel our energy levels ebb and spirits fall as the days grow shorter. The condition is called seasonal ...

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Signs and Symptoms of SAD

  1. The most obvious one would be feelings of depression – Low mood, guilt, hopelessness, negative thoughts.  Some people will suffer from apathy and an inability to feel

  2. The need to hibernate – You sleep more, and find it difficult to stay awake during the day.  Or on the side of the scale you may have disturbed sleep at night and wake early every morning.

  3. Over eating – You might crave carbohydrates and sweet foods and guess where that might lead – Obesity! Another health issue to deal with. 

  4. You might feel irritable with people all the time and you begin to prefer your own company.

  5. Your concentration and memory might deteriorate.  You feel a bit slower in the intelligence department.      

  6. You feel lethargic all the time.      

  7. You might feel increasingly anxious.

  8. Then you feel completely better in the Spring.

Now this list of symptoms could be used to describe quite a lot of people in the winter, apart from the people with a particularly sunny disposition.

So the main determining factor would be the timing of the symptoms and if they have occurred over three or more winters.

Treatment of SAD

Light Therapy

There are three main sources of treatment

Light Therapy - Now this is the big one.  Several pieces of research seem to point to the fact that this works in up to 85% of diagnosed cases. It has been used for over 20 years to treat various mental health conditions and it is mainstay treatment for sufferers from SAD.

The idea is to expose oneself to brighter than normal light. The brightness of a light is measured in Lux.  this measures  illuminance over a given area.  Normal light is in the region of 200 - 500 lux.  The light used in SAD is at a very bare minimum 2500lux.  Treatment times using this amount of lux however would be pretty long, so it is a bit impractical in today's world to sit around for about 4 hours.

Thankfully, there is a wide amount of choice at the moment.  Some lights go up to 10000lux which will then reduce treatment time to about 30 mins a day.  

There is also blue light therapy which seeks to imitate a blue cloudless sky.

Actual sunlight on a bright day  can measure up to 100000 lux so this cannot completely be replicated yet, as far as I am aware but these lights provide the next best thing.

SAD Treatment

Anti depressants - Some people do not feel better using just light and some others feel uncomfortable just sitting with bright light blaring towards them.  In these cases, anti-depressant medication is used as well or instead.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors such as fluoxetine and sertraline are used more usually.  Something to be aware of when using anti-depressants - They can initially make you feel worse before you get better.  It takes about 3 weeks to notice their effect.

Psychotherapy - this is the other way people use to combat the symptoms of SAD. This could include group session dealing with specific symptoms of SAD and their consequences, Cognitive behavioural therapy, problem-solving therapies and more.  This can help people deal with the specific behaviors and thoughts that may be enhancing the disorder.

More information on SAD

Seasonal affective disorder, also known as winter depression, winter blues, summer depression, summer blues, or seasonal depression, is a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience ...
Updated: 01/07/2012, MuminBusiness
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What has your experience of SAD been?

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MuminBusiness on 02/13/2012

That sounds great - the move, I mean. If this writing thing works, My family would love to move to California, I hear the weather is always nice and warm. I just love the idea of it! It is freezing over here at the moment. Difficult to stay happy in this weather.

It really is surprising the difference lack of sunlight makes.

BrendaReeves on 02/13/2012

This is definitely real. I have it big time. That's why I'm trying to move back to Southern CA. I take antidepressants for depression in general. My psychiatrist told me to take vitamin D and to sit under lighting for 20 minutes a day. It really makes a difference.

MuminBusiness on 01/19/2012

I know what you mean. Life is just that little bit harder when the weather is dark and cold.
Thanks for the feedback! I love your profile pic!

Angel on 01/19/2012

I really believe I have this. I was not aware that there was a name for it until recently. I live in Virginia just outside of Washington DC. The winters are not too long but the lack of sunlight and rainy spells make me so depressed. This new house we live in does not have as much sunlight coming through and I can tell a difference. Maybe I need to get one of those lights! And take Vitamin D. Great article.

MuminBusiness on 01/07/2012

Hi Jimmie, I just looked at your hub and quite like it. I think a lot of people feel down when the weather is cold and dark.

Thanks for your input!

Jimmie on 01/07/2012

Ugh! I know the pain of SAD. I don't think I ever had the full blown disorder, but I certainly am affected by lack of direct sunlight and blue skies. When I lived in gloomy, smoggy, overcast China, this was a terrible problem. I struggled mightily through the winters, especially. (I wrote a hub about dealing with SAD from a Christian perspective.)

MuminBusiness on 01/07/2012

The Vitamin D idea is great.

I have lived in various places including the UK and USA and Africa. If I mentioned SAD in Africa, it would be laughed at as a European disease, but then living in Europe, I can understand why having no sunlight could be a big issue. I feel slightly depressed when there is no sunlight.

I did not realize that the sun set so late (early) in Sweden. Thanks for your input!

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