Feeling SAD Lately?

Those who have the winter blues for an extended period of time may be feeling “SAD” – seasonal affective disorder.

Seasonal affective disorder “mimics a depression,” according to Tim Bowman, an intensive outpatient therapist at Hillcrest Behavioral Health Services’ Intensive Outpatient Program at OVMC.

“Does that make it a depression? It’s more of a sleep disorder,” Bowman said.

Referencing the debate regarding how medical professionals define SAD, Bowman said there are two facets: depressive and the other bipolar.

Whereas the depressive side to SAD involves fatigue, over-eating and over-sleeping, the bipolar side relates to the seasonal mood change associated with the disorder.

Bowman believes it all connects to circadian rhythm, the biological clock that is set up through light hitting the retinas and triggering nerve reactions.

“The circadian rhythm is off through the effect of low light,” said Bowman about what happens through SAD.

Light suppresses melatonin, “the hormone that tells you to sleep.”

In summer, increased light decreases melatonin. During winter, however, individuals are more vulnerable to SAD as darker days offer less light to combat levels of the hormone.

Guided by this, medical professionals suggest various therapy options, one being light therapy.

Researchers believe full-spectrum light emanating from light boxes, now readily available at stores, send messages from the retina to reduce melatonin production.

Bowman reminded those considering this therapy avenue that such lights, often requiring an intensity of 10,000 lux to be effective, “are not the (same as) light bulbs you use in your house.”

Another option is cognitive behavior therapy for learning how to manage behavior and maintain positivity.

While Bowman said SAD is unique in that there are steps people can take to combat symptoms, he emphasized the disorder is “nothing to play around with.”

Doctors cannot diagnose patients with SAD until they display two consecutive years with similar SAD patterns.

“It can be serious, especially if (individuals are) predisposed to depression,” Bowman said.

Women are more likely to be affected than men, “as it is true with most depression,” according to Bowman.

However, there are methods of prevention.

Bowman cited regular exercise, a good diet and vitamin D intake as healthy habits that can help prevent symptoms before they lead to the blues.