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Diagnosing Seasonal Affective Disorder

Written by Lisa Jillanza

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is described as a form of depression that affects people typically in the winter months. Many people who are affected by SAD begin seeing symptoms of their depression in autumn, as the seasons change and the amount of daylight decreases.

Other symptoms of SAD include: loss of appetite, irritability, lack of energy, overeating (especially carbohydrates), lack of socializing, and increased sleep, particularly in the day time. For many people the correlation between the changing of the seasons and their symptoms of depression could simply be the stress of the holidays and the ending of a year, and not be seasonal affective disorder.  Psychologists say that there is a pretty thin line between SAD and event-related stress.

Doctors also believe that the release of melatonin in the brain can also be a factor in SAD.  Melatonin is released due to exposure to the sun, and doctors say that melatonin can influence some bodily rhythms because there is a decrease in daylight during the fall and winter months.

Luckily for those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder there are treatment options.

Depending upon the severity of the disorder, doctors may recommend antidepressant medications, psychological therapy and/or light therapy.

Light therapy seems to be the most effective form of treatment and many people can see results within a few days.  Light therapy involves having the person who suffers from SAD be exposed to a very strong light source, via a light box or a strong lamp.  The sufferer spends a couple hours in the light's rays per day as part of the treatment.

The light required in light therapy must be of enough brightness, typically 25 times brighter than a normal living room light.

And contrary to what many theories state, the light does not need to be actual daylight from the sun. In this case, it is quantity, not necessarily quality of light that matters in light therapy of seasonal affective disorder.