As cooler weather comes to Michigan and cloudy days with rain are the order of the day my thoughts turn to those friends of mine who suffer as the light leaves the sky. We live close to Ontario where, due to a confluence of factors including water, irregular landmasses, and jet stream the days are even darker than they are in Michigan. Mental health professionals have known for some time that the further north you go the more seasonal depression you will find.
Seasonal Affective Disorder was first described in the 1840′s but it wasn’t until the 1980′s that it was officially recognized as a distinctive form of depression. It is, as its name suggests, a depression that hits during the darker, colder, winter months. The worst months for SAD sufferers are January and February and there is much more of it in Canada and the northern tier States than there is south of Tennessee. The best guess is that it is caused by internal clocks not adjusting to the change of seasons; think “jet lag” with no relief for months.
Treatment starts with light therapy. It is important that anyone with SAD have a lot of light in the rooms where they work or spend most of their days. The light needs to be full spectrum light (lamps and bulbs available online or in most large department stores), NOT standard or flourescent. An hour’s walk in bright winter sunlight is as effective as two hours of artificial light. If you cannot control the light in your workplace, make sure you have a good “light bath” for thirty minutes every day as a minimum when you get home. Lights are a cheap and effective way to ameliorate the symptoms of SAD.
Some antidepressants are also effective. It usually only takes a low dose if the individual is also using light therapy. An over the counter remedy is melatonin, especially when combined with B6. Don’t go nuts — standard doses are safe; higher ones can cause headaches the morning after. Ginseng and a multivitamin each day is a good idea, too.
Interesting, isn’t it, that Jesus spoke of his work as light in the darkness? The Book of John uses that motif throughout. Zechariah spoke of the joy of God as light that would appear at twilight — right when you think that darkness is coming, God brings light.
Keep depressing things away from you during this time. This isn’t the time for dark books, dark music, or annoying relatives. This is a wonderful time for reading devotional literature, spending time in fellowship with Christians, walking, and serving others.
Suffering from SAD? You are not alone. Find a support group starting with the best support group of all — the church.