Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects 10 million Americans yearly
January 24, 2020
It’s a real thing
The holidays are over, it’s dark, and you’re listless and sad.
It’s not just you. This past Monday, January 20th, has the dubious honor of being the most depressing day of the year. "Blue Monday” is more of a publicity stunt than a fact based on research, but it’s been effective at boosting awareness of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Experts estimate that SAD affects 10 million Americans every year. It’s a type of depression prompted by less exposure to sunlight during the fall and winter months. The cause is unknown, but most theories are based on the idea that humans evolved to change with the seasons. Sadly, hibernating during the winter isn’t possible in a modern economy. But our circadian rhythm hasn't caught on.
Evidence suggests that SAD may be related to melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep cycle. Darkness stimulates melatonin, and shorter, darker days increases the amount of melatonin in the body, leading to drowsiness and lethargy.
Other studies suggest that SAD could be related to Vitamin D, which affects your body’s ability to regulate serotonin, the hormone responsible for mood regulation. People living far north and south of the equator are more likely to experience SAD, and a family history of depression also increases your risk.
But the lamps seem to work
Sitting in front of a bright light for 20-40 minutes every day to artificially expose yourself to Vitamin D may seem…very literal. But if SAD is linked the sunlight deprivation, then light therapy is an obvious solution and there's research to support it. If you maintain this habit for at least two weeks, your symptoms may start to recede.
The American Psychology Associaton (APA) recommends using a light lamp with an exposure of 10,000 lux (a measure of intensity) of light, after consulting with your doctor.
So does regular healthy habits, prescription drugs and therapy
In addition to light therapy, the APA recommends eating well, regular exercise and making time for friends and family. Talk to your doctor about drug prescriptions and therapy options.
Check out these other North Carolina Resources:
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services–Mental Health, Development Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services
North Carolina 211 – 2-1-1 is a free referral and information helpline that connects people to a wide range of health and human services, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To contact 2-1-1 in any state, including North Carolina, simply dial the numbers 2-1-1 from any phone.
National Alliance on Mental Illness–North Carolina– The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a nationwide advocacy group, representing families and people affected by mental health disorders in the United States