Understanding SAD: Coping with seasonal depression

Staff Writer

“SAD is a type of depression,” said Cindy Vaudrain, a supervising counselor in Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Health Center. “It’s called ‘seasonal affective disorder,’ but it’s really under the whole big headline of depression.”

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects an individual during the winter season. It’s particularly common among women between the ages of 15 and 55 with a family history of SAD. The chances of getting SAD reduce with time and age, thus making it most likely to appear in the late teens or early twenties.

“The thing about SAD compared to other forms of depressions is that it has to do with light,” said Vaudrian, a licensed clinical counselor with the state of Ohio. “Because there is less light during the winter months, some people are more affected. It’s not the actual winter season, it’s the light.”

Symptoms start at the same time each year, around September or October, and go until the end of April or beginning of May when the sun is out more often. Symptoms are similar to those of depression including feeling sad or moody, loss of interest in usual activities, fatigue, inability to concentrate and cravings for carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta.

People with SAD often find it difficult to complete tasks at work or school. SAD is not usually diagnosed until someone has experienced two or more years of the same symptoms at the same time of year.

Luckily, SAD is completely treatable. The most common treatment is light therapy. Bright light treatment is a therapy where the patient sits in front of a light box that emulates Ultra Violet light for half an hour in the morning when the sun would normally come up in the summer.

A second light treatment is dawn simulation where the patient sleeps under a light that is dim in the morning and gets brighter over a period of time, similar to the sunrise.

Anti depressants can also help to balance brain chemicals that are responsible for affecting mood. Many patients prefer counseling.

Light therapy tends to be more favorable for most patients because it is very easy to use and is the most natural.

Any of the counselors at the counseling center as well as the nurses in the Health Center are able to help anyone who thinks they have SAD, said Vaudrain. “We want to evaluate the symptoms and then talk about background history of depression. Any of the counselors can help them figure that out,” she said.

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