Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Could it be affecting you?

Throughout the long winter months, many individuals begin to notice a lack of energy or motivation, cravings to eat excess amounts of carbs or sugar, a social withdrawal, and an overall sluggish feeling that won’t subside. While these feelings may appear insignificant at first glance, they are all identified symptoms of SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is a type of depression that occurs at a certain time of the year, primarily in the winter which is why it is often referred to as “Winter Blues.” Often times, SAD is onset by puberty, however, it can also develop during adulthood. Because the city of Duluth is known for long winter nights and a lack of sunlight throughout the day due to the dense fog, individuals living here are at a greater risk for SAD. 

An Example of a Bright-light
Therapy Lamp
Teresa Aldach
Although the immense effect of sunlight may be hard to believe, there is a complete biophysical explanation behind the disorder. Teresa Aldach, the coordinator of counseling services in the Student Center for Health and Well-being, has done a great deal of research on SAD because she and many students she has cared for have been personally affected by the disorder. According to Teresa, individuals with seasonal affective disorder process light through their eyes more sensitively than others. One result is that bright light triggers the pineal gland to release a sleep chemical known as melatonin way too early in the day. Similarly, serotonin, a biochemical in the brain closely associated with depression that makes our moods lift, may disable the processing of melatonin. These chemical imbalances validate the fact that feelings such as loss of energy or motivation are at no fault of the individual. Thankfully, SAD is assessed very clearly through blood tests, and there are a few very effective treatments for the disorder. The therapeutic recommendation for SAD, known as bright-light therapy uses a special lamp with a very bright light to mimic sunlight. Also, many of those affected take Vitamin D supplements to maintain energy throughout the day. Counseling services are working to offer bright-light therapy to faculty and staff in the future, perhaps in the library! If you are concerned that you may suffer from SAD, we strongly encourage you to contact your health care provider.