How Vitamin D can fight Depression of S.A.D.
s the clouds roll in at the end of fall and stay through the winter it can be a dreary time of year
for residents who live in any area, whether it's several feet of snow at their doorstep or the six months of heavy downpour we experience here in the Willamette Valley. Seasonal changes can redirect the course of our personal wellness and mood. The rays of sunshine that motivate us atrick ancher during the spring and summer months are quickly replaced with shorter, darker days of damp and cooler weather. It is not uncommon for people living in the northwest to feel bogged down or to have a case of the winter blues during the long, rain-filled months ahead. However, for some people these seasonal changes can have a greater impact on their well being, which can lead to periods of mild, moderate or severe depression, a lack of energy, and an overall bad mood. These symptoms can be associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a common disease among populations that live in colder climates, which don't
have as much exposure to sunlight during the fall and winter. SAD is a condition that is characterized by recurrent episodes of depression, usually in late fall and winter—alternating with periods of normal and high moods the rest of the year. These symptoms usually begin in October or November and don't subside until March or April, though some people can experience symptoms as early as August. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, most people with SAD are women whose illness typically begins in their twenties, although men also report SAD of similar severity and have increasingly sought treatment as well. NAMI also states the usual characteristics of recurrent winter depression include oversleeping, daytime fatigue, carbohydrate craving, weight gain, although a patient doesn't necessarily show these symptoms. Additionally, there are the usual features of depression: decreased sexual interest, lethargy, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, lack of interest in normal activities and social withdrawal. It is recommended that if your depressive symptoms are severe enough to significantly affect your daily living you should contact a mental health professional immediately.
OCTOBER 19-OCTOBER 25, 2010
My sister-in-law, Jill Fancher Ph.D., is the Clinic Director/Psychologist at Evergreen Behavioral Health in Vancouver, WA. Since SAD is a mental health issue, I asked her what could trigger the illness. "There are a couple of theories on the etiology of SAD. It is clear that where a person is living plays an important role, particularly affecting those at higher latitudes, such as Alaska. Because of these location patterns, it appears that the amount of sun exposure plays a role. Sunlight directly affects our circadian rhythms, or sleep cycles. Secondly, neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin, have been implicated as a potential source of disruption for people with SAD. Lastly, a hormone sometimes taken as a sleep-aide supplement, called Melatonin has also been linked to SAD," Fancher said. I wondered what kind of treatment options are available to people who suffer from SAD or think they might have it, in terms of seeking out medical help. "As a psychologist I often recommend three lines of treatment to cover the full ranges of symptoms and all possible causes: 1. Speak to your primary care provider about medication options available to them. 2. Purchase or rent a full-spectrum light box
(10,000 lux) and sit by the light 30 minutes a day preferably in the morning. 3. Engage in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy," Fancher said. It seems logical that those who live in areas with more sunshine year round might not be exposed to problems like SAD, but apparently SAD can also occur during the summer months as well. "For individuals in warmer climates who live closer to the equator there is less incidence of SAD. Further, we know that bright light therapy is helpful. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that more exposure to sunshine can reduce the likelihood of SAD. However, I would not say that people who are exposed to more sunshine do not suffer from SAD. In fact there is a mood disturbance in summer as well," she added. Your primary care provider may recommend that a person start taking a medication related to depression to help with SAD, which can prove to be helpful in the long term. According to MayoClinic, it is important to keep in mind that some antidepressant medications can take up to several weeks for people to notice the full benefits. In addition, a person may have to try many differ-