Seasonal Affective Disorder
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Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is commonly described as a form of depression that is associated with biological rhythms. While seasonal affective disorder does not appear in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a separate disorder, the option of diagnosing a mood disorder with a seasonal pattern is available. In this way, clinicians can specify a mood disorder with a seasonal pattern if a patient only experiences the mood disorder during a specific time of the year.
The majority of sufferers of seasonal affective disorder are women. The onset of seasonal affective disorder appears to be during early adulthood. Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include the following:
- Increased sleeping habits
- Increased eating habits or weight gain
- Reduced ability to concentrate
- Social withdrawal
The Seasonal Pattern Assessment Questionnaire was developed for the diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder.
Most people affected by seasonal affective disorder experience their symptoms during the winter, although a summer version of the disorder also exists. Days are shorter during the winter months and individuals are less likely to be outside during the cold weather. Current theories suggest seasonal affective disorder is caused by an irregularity in circadian rhythms.
Treatment for seasonal affective disorder includes light therapy. A majority of patients improve after several hours of exposure to bright artificial light during the day. Experiencing additional artificial light in the morning appears to help even out circadian rhythms, providing individuals with relief from symptoms after a few weeks. Seasonal affective disorder symptoms will also get better without treatment after a change in the seasons.
Perhaps the newest and most promising alternative use of light in medicine pertains to its application in psychiatry. In the case of seasonal affective disorder, some individuals suffer from depression that occurs on a seasonal basis and in response to the reduced daylight offered in the fall and winter months.Many people suffer from seasonal affective disorder on a yearly basis, with a range in severity from mild depression to full-blown depressive disorders with significant reductions in functioning. The use of light therapy in this population has proven very successful in diminishing the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.
So powerful is phototherapy in fighting seasonal affective disorder, winter depression, and some other forms of depression that "daily exposure to bright light is about as effective as antidepressant drugs" in reducing the accompanying symptoms.In these patient populations, bright light is administered on a daily basis, usually early in the morning and for thirty to sixty minutes per day. Numerous devices have been developed and study for the administration of phototherapy in seasonal affective disorder's treatment. While light boxes are the standard, there are also battery-operated visors and bedside lights that have proven effectiveness in treating seasonal affective disorder's symptoms