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Treatment for SAD: Get Out!

Don't be blue.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD – great acronym, BTW) is the clinical condition of wintertime depression – something that primarily affects people who live in dark, cold, winter climates. In other words, those of us who live in the Ohio Valley.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Extreme Climate list, two of the nation’s 10 cloudiest cities are in West Virginia – Elkins and Beckley. And according to the website of Winter Blues author and psychiatrist Norm Rosenthal, “over 90 percent of all those who responded to a survey conducted in Maryland, about thirty-nine degrees north, reported that they felt some difference in mood, energy, or behavior with the change of seasons.”

Now that the days in our region are getting shorter and colder, perhaps you’ve noticed that you’re sleeping a lot; you have low energy; or maybe you’ve been craving carbohydrates (put on a few pounds?); or perhaps you’re just feeling down, unmotivated, moody, depressed. These are classic symptoms of SAD, but there are ways to combat this mood disorder:

Get out! Diminished light in the winter is a main cause of SAD. But keep in mind that, even on the cloudiest December day, the natural light outside is much brighter than the light inside. So get out. Really. Going outside has a positive effect on SAD “if the day is sunny or if there is snow to reflect the sun,” says Teodor Postolache, director of the Mood and Anxiety Program at the University of Maryland Medical School. “I will say the earlier (in the day) the better if there is light outside.” The exercise should also make you feel better.

Use light therapy. Doctors tend to use light therapy as the first order of treatment for SAD sufferers. Here’s the key: “full spectrum” is not a way to select your light. Look for the words 10,000 lux on your light (lux is a unit of measurement for light illumination). True Sun (www.trusun.com) is a Steubenville, OH-based company that sells these lights. Some studies have shown that “dawn simulation” light therapy – that is, light therapy in the morning – is most effective. Exposure to your light for 30-45 minutes a day is the usual recommended dosage.

Try herbal medication. A number of clinical studies have shown the herb St. John’s wort to be effective in treating mild depression. Studies show it is not effective for severe depression. Although there is variation, many sources recommend 900 milligrams a day. Ask a doctor about your own dosage.

Consider antidepressant drugs. If outdoor exercise, light therapy and St. John’s wort don’t work, you might need to turn to antidepressant drugs. You’ll need to talk with your doctor about this, since he or she will need to give you a prescription.

As bad as SAD can be, it really is a very treatable disorder, so if you suffer from it, seek treatment as soon as possible.