2017-10-02 / OnCall

Casting Light on SAD

David A. Doll

Q: As daylight hours start to shorten, what are some ways to prepare for the darkness of winter and attempt to stave off seasonal affective disorder?

A: Since seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is thought to be caused by a reaction to a lack of sunlight, the therapy most recommended involves light. The individual either sits in front of a light box or wears a light visor with full spectrum bulbs for 30 minutes to three hours during the early morning. Light therapy has been shown to be effective, helping about 50 to 60 percent of patients. Sometimes antidepressants are also used effectively.

If you think you have symptoms of SAD, see your doctor for an examination to make sure these symptoms are not caused by another type of depression or medical illness. The doctor will also look for other explanations for the change in your mood or behavior and eliminate those as possible causes.

If you are diagnosed with SAD, there are some things you can do in addition to light and other therapies.

  • Try to spend some amount of time outside every day, even when it is cloudy.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet including sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals as recommended by the Food and Drug Administration.
  • Seek professional counseling, if needed, during the winter months.

Perhaps the most important of these self-help ideas is to stay involved in activities with your friends and family. They can be a great support in your efforts to lessen the symptoms of SAD.

David A. Doll
Psychiatric counselor
Mount Nittany Medical Center Behavioral Health

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