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What is seasonal affective disorder?
The difference between seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and nonseasonal depression comes down to, basically, the timing of the year. In certain areas of the country, seasonal affective disorder is far more common than others. Generally, folks that have SAD tend to get more blue or more depressed during the waning time of the year, meaning toward fall and into winter.
Why are some people's moods affected by the seasons?
The reason behind this, we believe, is an issue of light and the timing of light changes during the day. The shorter amount of time during the day that the sun is out is generally associated, for people with seasonal affective disorder, with a worsening of their mood.
How is seasonal affective disorder treated?
Some of the best studies of seasonal affective disorder come from countries, not surprisingly, like Norway and Sweden and Scandinavia, where, for many months of the year they have very little sunlight. And some of the treatment involves nonmedication interventions and simply using light boxes. Folks will stand in front of a light box for a prescribed period of time in the morning as well as at night and that will actually help a fair number of people feel less depressed during those times of the year.
I suspect a loved one may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder. What can I do to help?
What someone can do if they suspect their family member has a mental illness or a loved one or even for themselves — is to get help. And for family members of a patient who appears to have a mental illness really should not take no for an answer, especially if they’re worried enough about that person. In depression, for instance, folks will often feel very unmotivated, they’ll become resistant sometimes to wanting to seek help.
What else can I do to get my loved one help?
If it’s a concern enough, I usually advise folks to take their family member to the doctor’s office and sit in with them to begin with and then often politely excuse yourself from the appointment so that that person can feel confident in privacy talks with their family doctor. The doctor should be able to screen someone for depression. There are a number of one-page questionnaires that take about 30 to 60 seconds to complete and within that 30 or 60 seconds the doctor can very quickly determine if this is someone who’s most likely depressed.
What I would recommend for folks who are concerned about a loved one that might have a mental illness such as depression is to bring that person to the doctor and sit down and address your concern with that person’s family doctor, and then let them get treatment and encourage them that they’re doing the right thing and that you’re going to be supportive.
For More Information
To learn more about Sharp's mental health services or to find a Sharp-affiliated doctor, search for a San Diego psychiatrist or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm. To find general information about mental health, visit Mental Health Disorders in Adult Health or read the Mental Health News archive.