Shedding Light on Seasonal Affective Disorder

When the days get shorter and the cold weather sets in, do you sometimes feel lethargic or irritable? Do you have difficulty focusing at work or on your studies? You might be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression caused by lack of natural light.

SAD mainly affects people in Northern countries like Canada, where about 18% of the population may be affected. Symptoms include chronic fatigue, low morale and loss of interest or motivation. It is diagnosed when a person experiences these symptoms at the same time in the fall or winter for at least two consecutive years. In some cases these symptoms can be acute and prevent people from performing their day-to-day activities.

One way you can prevent SAD is to expose yourself to natural light as much as possible. It is therefore important that you go outdoors at least an hour a day to expose yourself to daylight, even on cloudy days, whether you are at home or at the office. Special indoor lights that emit intense white light are also available. It is recommended that you expose yourself to these lights 30 minutes a day, preferably in the morning. These light therapy sessions help combat SAD and do not cause any serious side effects. The lights can be rented from the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba for $20 per month (purchase price is $200).

As with all types of depression, you have to keep physically active and go outdoors as much as possible. If you experience severe symptoms, antidepressants can be effective as well. Psychotherapy sessions can also help you to better understand the disease, and change your attitudes and behaviours to make you feel better. In all cases, it is important that you talk to a health professional. He or she will help you “see the light” at the end of the tunnel.