Although many people lament that passage of summer into fall, for millions of people worldwide, it can mean the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. This depressive disorder is believed to be linked to light – both quality and quantity – received by the sun and its effect on the mental health of people. Initially, SAD was received with skepticism by many doctors but is now accepted as a common diagnosis and had a variety of treatments.
Seasonal Affective Disorder was originally reported and named by Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D. of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in the early 1980s. The disorder in general had been studied since the 1970s however, when research engineer Herb Kern noticed that he was more depressed in the winter and believed that light could be a reason. He discussed his problem and ideas with scientists at NIMH who were, by chance, working with body rhythms around the same time. NIMH scientists created a light box for Kern to use and after noting he felt better after a few days of using, the research into SAD developed in earnest.
Traditional SAD results in patients feeling more depressed during the winter months, though variations resulting in patients struggling with depression and anxiety in the summer also exists. For traditional diagnoses of SAD, light therapy has proven to be a successful form of treatment for most patients. Other treatments for all versions of SAD include ionized-air administration, supplements of melatonin and cognitive behavior therapy. Quite often, SAD is present in combination with other depressive disorders or mood based mental illness such as bi-polar disorder. For patients with multiple diagnoses, therapists often recommend a drug-free treatment, though medication, including anti-depressants, have been successfully administered to help with SAD symptoms.
The study of Seasonal Affective Disorder continues as do treatments which rely more on natural therapies. As SAD is recognized as being more and more common, and increasing number of people have presented possible ways to treat and manage symptoms without the need for any kind of medication or supplements such as melatonin. Those suffering with SAD are advised to get plenty of regular sleep, exercise daily, engage in light therapy from either artificial or natural sources and consider cognitive based therapy as ways to manage symptoms.
Sporadic bouts of depression can be normal for most people, particularly as the seasons change. Those who suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder, however, find that this depression lasts longer and is more intense than normal, routine mood swings. For those who find their life detrimentally affected by their depression, treatment for SAD may help mitigate symptoms immediately as well as giving them the skills needed to deal with future episodes.