Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that strikes most people in autumn and continues throughout the winter months. SAD is more severe than a case of ‘winter blues’. It can affect people’s ability to cope and be productive. It saps them of energy and makes if difficult to experience joy in life. Some forms of SAD may also strike during the summer months.

SAD has only been recognized as a disorder since the 1980s, although it was known of long before that. As many as 3 per cent of Ontarians may be afflicted and many of its sufferers are not aware that help is available.

People who have this disorder experience some or all of the following symptoms, for at least two consecutive seasons:

• Decreased energy and/or fatigue
• Sleep disturbances
• Irritability
• Difficulty concentrating
• Changes in appetite, especially cravings for foods high in sugar and carbohydrates
• Weight gain
• Social withdrawal
• Depression, hopelessness and/or anxiety

The causes of SAD are not completely understood but research has linked the disorder to our biological internal clock, or our circadian rhythms. There may also be some connection to the relatively recent introduction of electricity that counters humans’ normal biological reactions to the longer nights and shorter days of winter.

If you or someone you care about is experiencing symptoms of SAD, consulting a doctor is the first step toward feeling better. Treatment may be as simple as spending more time outdoors or rearranging the furniture to have a chair close to a window. More indoor lighting may also help, as will regular exercise and a healthy diet. Many people with SAD find relief through photo or light therapy, regular counseling or, in severe cases, medication.

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