The symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder usually recur regularly each
winter, starting between September and November and continuing until March
or April in the Northern hemisphere, and a diagnosis can be made after
three or more consecutive winters of symptoms, which include a number
of the following:
- SLEEP PROBLEMS Usually desire to oversleep
and difficulty staying awake but, in some cases, disturbed sleep and
early morning wakening;
Feeling of fatigue and inability to carry out normal routine Overeating:
Craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods, usually resulting in weight
- DEPRESSION Feelings of misery, guilt
and loss of self-esteem, sometimes
hopelessness and despair, sometimes apathy and loss of feelings;
- SOCIAL PROBLEMS Irritability and desire
to avoid social contact;
- ANXIETY Tension and inability
to tolerate stress;
- LOSS OF LIBIDO Decreased interest in sex and physical contact;
- MOOD CHANGES In some sufferers, extremes of mood and short periods
of hypomania (overactivity) in spring and autumn;
- WEAKENED IMMUNE SYSTEM During
the winter months, sufferers are more vulnerable to infections and other
Symptoms disappear in spring Symproms vanish either suddenly with a
short period (e.g., four weeks) of hypomania or hyperactivity, or gradually,
depending on the intensity of sunlight in the spring and early summer.
In sub-syndromal SAD, symptoms such as tiredness, lethargy, sleep and
eating problems occur, but depression and anxiety are absent or mild.
SAD may begin at any age but the main age of onset is between 18 and
30 years. It occurs throughout the northern and southern hemispheres
but is extremely rare in those living within 30 degrees of the Equator,
where daylight hours are long, constant and extremely bright.
light therapy + other therapies
Light therapy has been proved effective in up to 85 per cent of diagnosed
cases - that is, exposure, for up to four hours per day (average 1-2
hours) to very bright light, at least ten times the intensity of ordinary
Ordinary light bulbs and fittings are not strong enough. Average domestic
or office lighting emits an intensity of 200-500 lux but the minimum
dose, necessary to treat SAD is 2500 lux. The intensity of a bright
summer day can be 100,000 lux!
Light treatment should be used daily during the winter months (and dull
periods in summer), starting in early autumn when the first symptoms
It consists of sitting two to three feet away from a specially designed
light box, usually on a table, allowing the light to shine directly
through the eyes. The user can carry out normal activity such as reading,
working, eating and knitting while stationary in front of the box.
It is not necessary to stare at the light although it has been proved
safe. Treatment is usually effective within three or four days and the
effect continues provided it is used every day.
Tinted lenses, or any device that blocks the light to the retina of
the eye, should not be worn. Some light boxes emit higher intensity
of light, up to 10,000 lux, which can cut treatment time down to half
an hour a day.
Light boxes have to be bought from specialist retailers; prices start
at less than £100 [USD200].
The Seasonal Affective Disorder
Association recommends trying before buying; several companies offer
a home trial or hire scheme
Traditional antidepressant drugs such as tricyclics are NOT usually
helpful for SAD as they exacerbate the sleepiness and lethargy that
are symptoms of the illness.
Other psychotropic drugs e.g. lithium and benzodiazepines have NOT proved
widely useful in the treatment of SAD.
Daily exposure to as much natural daylight as possible, especially at
midday, should help.
Psychotherapy, counselling or any complementary therapy which helps
the sufferer to relax, accept their problem and cope with its limitations
are extremely useful.
the SADA Information Pack.
what your doctor can
SAD is still not a widely recognised illness, but GPs can refer you
to a an Affective Disorder Clinic - but there are only a handful of
these. A clinic will also offer advice on how to manage the problem
and where to buy or hire light boxes. UK Clinics are at:
- Royal Cornhill Hospital Aberdeen: 01224 663131;
- QE2 Hospital Welwyn Garden City: 01707 328111;
- Maudsley Hospital South London: 020 7703 6333;
- Menai Day Hospital Bangor: 01248 384384;
- St Mary's Hospital London: 020 7886 6666; and
- Kingsway Hospital Derby: 01332 362221.
* International sufferers may wish to contact these hospitals by telephone
or email to discover local clinics.
There are several effective ways to help yourself, but the most important
*GET SOME LIGHT THERAPY*
The next best thing to moving to the sun is to purchase
a light box to use at home. In England, the Philips Bright Light Energy
HF3305 is available from Boots - otherwise, access:
Alternatively, contact the SAD Association for a list
The latest light boxes are compact, and so effective that just half
an hour sitting in front of one each morning is enough to keep symptoms
at bay. The "dawn simulator" alarm clocks are also good for those with
boost your blood sugar levels
These play a large part in balancing mood and appetite, so it's important
to keep them even.
To regulate blood sugar levels, eat protein and carbohydrates at each
meal; and avoid or reduce your intake of sugar, refined foods (such
as white flour), coffee, tea and alcohol.
go for counselling
This can help you deal with underlying depression or relationship problems.
Ask your GP to refer you to one and if in the UK, contact the British
Association for Counselling on 01788 550899.
Otherwise, click here for information
Getting outdoors for some exercise enables you to make the most of what
daylight there is in winter.
Otherwise, click here for information about health
go somewhere warm!
If at all possible, go somewhere warm - Spain, North Africa, Turkey,
Greece, California, the Pacific - for some respite.
Try homeopathic and herbal remedies.
Some people prefer these because of the possible side effects associated
with conventional antidepressants.
In a recent trial, St
John's Wort was shown to alleviate anxiety, improve libido and regulate
sleep patterns equally in 133 people who took just the herb, as in 168
people who were having light therapy as well.
Try 900mcg a day from mid-autumn and take throughout the winter, but
consult your doctor if you are taking other medication.
Reflexology, homeopathy and herbalism have all been very effective in
To find a reflexologist in the UK, contact the British
Reflexology Association; to find a homeopath, contact the Society
of Homoeopaths; and to find a herbalist, contact the National
Institute of Medical Herbalists.
* International sufferers may want to contact the above associations
for information on local assistance.
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