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Seasonal affective disorder related to light deprivation

January 10, 2012
By KYLE WHITNEY - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE -Those dealing with seasonal depression may be able to find help in Marquette or through the purchase of a special type of light, according to a local expert.

The winter months, with cold weather, early nights and limited exposure to sunlight, can spur episodes of depression, called seasonal affective disorder.

According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. It typically shows up during a change in seasons, and is most prevalent in the winter.

Article Photos

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD as it is commonly known, is a type of depression related to a lack of sunlight. It impacts many in northern climates in the winter months, including the Upper Peninsula. (Journal file photo)

Aside from that seasonal component, SAD is essentially the same as more commonly recognized depression.

"It's actually not a unique mood disorder. It's a specifier of major depression," said Mindy Miller, senior therapist for behavioral health services at Marquette General Hospital. "It's the same as having a major depressive episode."

SAD presents like any depressive episode and is treated in much the same way, so Miller said it is tough to determine how many of the patients she sees have depression linked to the seasons.

As the new year marches on, each day is longer than the last, but there are still fewer then nine daylight hours daily. And with cloud cover common, there are even fewer hours of direct sunlight.

That decrease in sunlight means the body is on the receiving end of less vitamin D.

"It happens at the time of a season change every year," Miller said of SAD. "It's typically due to changes in light. People (usually) have it in the winter because - where we live anyway - we get significantly less sunlight and that does affect our biorhythms."

As it is impossible to avoid a change in season, it can be difficult to prevent SAD, if you are prone to it. But there is hope for those battling depression, according to Miller.

"I don't know about prevention, but treatment includes light therapy, medication, cognitive behavioral therapy and also something called negative air ionization therapy," she said.

It may also help to review your vitamin D intake with your primary care physician. If an increase is suggested, good sources of vitamin D include salmon, oysters and many soy products.

SAD patients can benefit from light therapy, in which special lights are used to impart lumens and vitamins. Miller said light therapy isn't extremely popular, but that the lights can be purchased online.

The therapy and the purchase of lights, she said, is rarely covered by insurance.

In addition to beginning light therapy and changing your diet, it may also help to begin an exercise routine.

"What you want to do is increase seratonin in your body. Exercise can do that - exercise and light," she said. "Stay away from alcohol, drugs and nicotine."

Miller said people should learn the signs and symptoms of depression.

"Usually there are changes in appetite, mood, energy level and sleep," she said. "You usually will sleep too much and have little energy.

"Sometimes you'll have a decreased appetite, people have social withdrawal, difficulty concentrating and difficulty getting tasks completed."

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.



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