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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Light Therapy
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
According to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI): Seasonal Affective Disorder is a condition characterized by recurrent episodes of depression in certain months of the year alternating with periods of normal mood the rest of the year. Usually those affected by SAD become depressed in the fall and winter and feel better during the spring and summer.
What are the Symptoms Associated with this Disorder?
- Depression with Fall and Winter Onset
- Lack of Energy
- Lack of Interest in Things Normally Found Pleasurable
- Social Withdrawal
- Increase in Appetite with Weight Gain
- Cravings of Sweets and Carbohydrates
- An Increase in Sleep and Daytime Tiredness
- Lower Quality of Rest
- Slower Movement
What is Light Therapy?
Research indicates that light affects the receptors in our brain that produce serotonin. Serotonin levels affect people’s mood. Fall and winter seasons are characterized by a reduced amount of daylight. Light therapy provides a full spectrum of artificial light into your eyes. According to NAMI, “Scientists believe that light therapy works by altering the levels of certain brain chemicals”. Light therapy consists of sitting about 2-3 feet from the SAD light for about 20-30 minutes. Morning is the recommended time for light therapy. You can eat or read while sitting in front of the light.
What Other Treatment is Available for SAD?
When is Light Therapy Not Enought?
- When Symptoms Occur Throughout the Year
- When Symptoms Don't Improve with Light Treatment
- When Suicidal Thoughts Occur
Are There Any Side Effects to Using Light Therapy?
Side effects are generally uncommon and usually mild. Light therapy consumers have complained of eyestrain, dry eyes, headaches, or insomnia. The effects can be combated by reduced time and light exposure. People who have bipolar disorder are encouraged to consult their doctor prior to using the lamp. In addition, people who are taking light sensitive medications or have medical conditions such as retinal diseases, diabetes, and lupus, should use light therapy only with the permission from a physician.
What are Other Ways that will Help Reduce Winter Depression Symptoms?
- Educate Yourself About Depression and Gain Support from Friends and Family
- Increase Amount of Daily Light Exposure
- Allow Natural Light to Permeate Your Home and Working Environment
- When You are Outside Refrain from Using Sunglasses
- Exercise Regularly
- Maitain a Regular Sleeping Schedule
- Avoid Major Life Changes or Stress During Fall and Winter Months
- Schedule Sunny Vacations During this Time Frame
I am interested in utilizing light therapy. What steps do I need to take for services at CAPS?
- Schedule an initial consultation for light therapy at 734.487.1118.
- A counselor may use a screning tool or assessment to help determine what services would be appropriate.
References and Further Reading Resources
The National Organization for Seasonal Affective Disorder (NOSAD)
P.O. Box 40133, Washington, D.C. 20016
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
- Rosenthal, R. (1998). Seasonal Affective Disorder: What It is and How to Overcome it (2nd Ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
The Center of Health and Counseling, University of Alaska Fairbanks