Sometimes the dark dreary skies of the season turn our positive outlook into mush. We call that the “winter blues." And sometimes, when that dismal outlook on life doesn’t go away, it’s a more serious ailment known as Season Affective Disorder, or SAD. Season Affective Disorder is a form of depression that occurs seasonally most often during the winter months. But it can happen in the summertime as well. The condition is characterized by reoccurring or long last episodes of depression and is triggered by the lack of sunlight. Usually people affected by SAD become depressed in the fall and winter and feel better during the spring and summer. SAD affects both men and women, and the illness typically begins in the early twenties. Some features of wintertime SAD are insomnia, carbohydrate cravings, and weight gain. Other symptoms include the usual characteristics of depression, like decreased sexual appetite, fatigue, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, and social withdrawal. If your recurrent depression happens in the summer the characteristics may also include decreased appetite, weight loss, and constant agitation or anxiety. SAD usually begins in October or November and subsides in March or April. Depressions are usually mild to moderate but can be severe. The most common characteristic is the person’s reaction to changes in the environmental light; when the weather is overcast depression worsens. The most common treatment for SAD is light therapy. Sitting in front of a full spectrum fluorescent light reverses the winter depressive symptoms because it reduces the level of a certain brain chemical (melatonin) which is normally present at night. The intensity of the light is equal to the amount of light a person would get from looking out a window on a sunny spring day. Antidepressant medication and psychotherapy in conjunction with light therapy also reduces SAD symptoms. If you think you might have SAD, first track your symptoms, if they are mild and do not interfere with your daily living, you might just have the “winter blues.” In this case, light therapy might help. If your symptoms are severe enough to significantly affect your day to day functioning, you need to consult a mental health professional to get the proper treatment. For more information on SAD, contact The Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI of Greater Chicago, www.namigc.org.
Our profile subject on the show, Maureen Joy, believes in light therapy and considers it soul restoring. She has been in treatment for SAD for over 20 years and in addition to light therapy and medication she she takes advantage of many other ways to treat her aliments. Through song writing, singing and poetry she shares her feelings about the illness.
Here is a poem she wrote to express the illness.
Winter is my coffin
I see it in a distance…it calls me by my name
I strive with all I am to run-pretend it’s just a game
But never left to overcome…a deep sleep close in sight
I dread this darkened passage-but have no strength to fight
It’s cold arms wrap around me…and chill me to my soul
It freezes all I have to give-it takes its hardened toll
But destiny has chosen me…to lie a frozen state
To dream the day when suns’ warm breath…alas does alter fate