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It's That Time Of Year - Seasonal Affective Disorder

Whether you’re one of my patients, or you’re someone who only knows that something happens to your mood every fall and winter, it’s time to start thinking about how to address it. If you’re savvy on the subject, you know that Seasonal Affective Disorder is real, diagnosable, and treatable. If not, you just know that you don’t want Summer to be over because Fall heralds the time of year that your mood drops, you sleep too much, you’re less productive, mopey, and have trouble thinking of anything positive about Winter, despite the joy of the holidays.

As a Psychiatrist, I want to be clear that I am not referring to people who have had losses of loved ones or good health in the winter. Anniversary reactions are real. I’m not referring to the people for whom the holidays are the only bright spot and the rest of the time between Halloween and Valentine’s Day is a time you struggle to get through. I’m not even talking to those of us who love gardening so much, (I’m one of them) and that the winter months keep them from planting, fertilizing, and harvesting their crop of farm-to-table veggies and from planting beautiful flowers.

I’m referring to the up to 3 percent of our population who is affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Six percent of the U.S population in the Northern hemisphere are affected by SAD. It affects the population without Major Depressive Disorder or Bipolar Disorder, and also affects those with these diagnoses.

From my standpoint as a clinician, anything that we can get ahead of, and is somewhat predictable, is worth focusing on. Some people need a low dose antidepressant during these months, some need an increase of their existing antidepressant, but all need the use of a light therapy box. So, even if you are not on medications for depression, SAD can be greatly thwarted or improved with light therapy. Here is what you should know:

  1. Your light therapy must be from a light box that is 10,000 lux. This light unit is equal to one lumen per square meter and is analogous to the light we receive from the sun.

  2. I start patients with light box therapy by mid September to get ahead of the time change that we experience in the fall. I suggest you use your light therapy box from September to March or April.

  3. Remember that you are trying to replace the summer sunlight that we do not receive in the late fall and winter months. You should use your box accordingly. For instance, one hour in the early morning and again in the evening from 5:00 to 8:30 p.m. (I even suggest one use it during the daytime on inclement days of the fall and winter ).

  4. Set the box at a distance of about 5-6 feet from you, and at an angle so that you are not looking directly into it.

For more information on how to effectively treat your SAD, you may make an appointment at Three Strand Wellness (980)938-5001 and we can help you know how light therapy may be helpful to you.

Remember, light therapy is not recommended as a replacement for your other prescribed treatments for depression

- therapy, medication management, TMS, Spravato - but may augment your treatment, and may be all you need if you do not have a Major Depressive Disorder.

Look for more informational blogs on this site, and posts on our Instagram, Facebook and on our podcast, Wellness Chats with Dr. Ifill-Taylor.

Have a great fall and winter!


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