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S.A.D. The Effect of Seasons on Mood

by Michael Troutt

Seasonal Affective Disorder is defined as recurrent episodes of major depression with seasonal onset and remission that have occurred for at least 2 consecutive years, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The DSM defines the criteria for healthcare professionals to diagnose mental disorders. During the fall and winter seasons when daylight begins to decrease, some individuals may recognize a change in how they feel and behave that deviates from their mood and behavior during the spring and summer seasons. Usually marked by feelings of sadness, anxiety and possibly a lack of interest in routinely sought out activities. These symptoms may also be accompanied by a fluctuation in weight and less tolerance for stress. Basically any symptoms typically associated with depression which should always be taken seriously. Individuals suffering from this disorder should seek therapy and, in some cases, medication combined with therapy to properly deal with this disorder.

The initial research, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, that lead to the identification of this disorder was largely based around the idea that differing amounts of sunlight may affect the mood of individuals. Though most individuals may associate S.A.D. with the fall and winter seasons, research revealed that there are a minority of individuals that suffer from this disorder during the spring and summer seasons when the amount of daylight progressively increases.

Blackburn psychology professor Dr. Kevin Karl commented, “When you talk about affect, you’re talking about anything that can impact the mood of an individual.” He also added that seasonal does not specifically indicate the winter months of the year, but that, “There could be any kind of season within a person’s life that could particularly have a mood impact on them.” Dr. Karl explained that the key element that really defines a disorder is, “Whether or not there is some sort of functional impairment associated with it.”

The Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit medical care and research organization, recommend that individuals suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder try phototherapy. During phototherapy, an individual is exposed to a specialized bright light that mimics natural daylight to help decrease their symptoms. Individuals are instructed to begin light therapy sessions early in the fall season for a duration of around 15 minutes. The amount of time increases as the season progresses and is sometimes recommended for up to two and a half hours. Because S.A.D. is believed to be linked to the seasonal decrease in natural daylight, it is hypothesized that using light therapy will help counteract the disorder.

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