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Christian Counseling - Are You A SAD Person?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a depression related problem with which most of us are somewhat familiar. It is also referred to as the "winter blues," as that is the most frequent season in which it occurs. In the latest version of the diagnostic manual for mental disorders it used as a "specifier" for Major Depression and Bipolar Disorders. Those who have one of the latter two types of depression may experience the onset and remission during specific times of the year, usually the fall and winter months, although there are some who experience it in the spring and summer.

The cause of SAD is not well known, but contemporary understanding is the symptoms occur due to reduced exposure to sunlight. This in turn can cause changes in the brain's production of chemicals, such as decreased serotonin (neurotransmitter) and increased melatonin (hormone produced by the pineal gland), both of which can cause depressive feelings. It may be that reduced light also interferes with our biological clock. Other symptoms include fatigue, lethargy, increased appetite, craving for carbohydrates and sweets, weight gain, anergy (absence of immune response to toxins or allergens), irritability, social withdrawal, hypersomnia and reduced concentration. SAD is more frequently found in women (60-90% of the cases).

Current treatments are antidepressant medication, psychotherapy and light therapy. Twenty years ago Daniel Kripke, MD, University of California began studies on light as a treatment for SAD. Subsequently, there have been several studies suggesting it can be an effective treatment. The light treatment necessary to be of help is a special light box that produces 10,000 lux (measure of light that is equal to 10 to 20 times that of ordinary indoor lighting) that requires being positioned 1 to 1.5 feet from the light for about 15-30 minutes daily. Usually within 3 to 5 days some benefit is achieved.

Diagnosis is not always easy, as there are many factors to consider, such as differentiating between the types of depression and assessing underlying medical issues. But if you suspect you have SAD, first contact your physician and request an exam. If the disorder is suspected or diagnosed, light therapy is the most cost effective and least invasive technique available. Psychotherapy or counseling can help confirm the diagnosis, treat thought patterns and behaviors that may be supporting depressive symptoms and teach coping strategies.

You may have tolerated this problem for years, but many research studies have linked untreated depression with serious physical disorders, such as coronary heart disease. In this situation, endurance is not a good attribute or a wise coping strategy. Get the help you need.

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