In this transitional weather period we are experiencing so early here in Maine, I have been thinking about seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a subtype of depression or bipolar disorder. For me, my favorite seasons are summer and spring because I love having the sunshine. It feels as though I can function better when it is warm and sunny out (ironic that I go to school in Maine!). But, I feel that this happens to many people, some experience it to a greater degree than others. So I researched SAD a bit and found that it is a DSM categorized disorder, but its specific causes are unknown. Factors that have been found to play a role in this disorder are your biological circadian clock, melatonin levels and serotonin levels. Symptoms include depression, anxiety, loss of energy, social withdrawal, oversleeping. Treatments include light therapy, anti-depressants, or CBT. This disorder can sometimes lead to major depression.
This interests me because it brings me back to the crossroads between brain and behavior. Researchers don’t know the specific cause of SAD, thus there is a link missing in this brain pathway. Are external factors (i.e. lack of sunlight) affecting behavior, which in turn affects the brain chemicals and thus can lead to major depression? Or is there a predisposed chemical imbalance that makes some more vulnerable to this disorder than others? According to Webmd.com, people who live in areas where there are shorter days are at a greater risk of developing this disorder, suggesting that behavior changes brain. On the other hand, according to this same website, people who have relatives who have had SAD are at a greater risk as well, suggesting that chemical imbalances in the brain affect this behavior. Another interesting point: according to Forbes magazine, a study conducted using the Gallop World Poll to look at citizen satisfaction in 140 countries, found that Denmark was “the happiest place on Earth”. Most of the peoples’ satisfaction is based on overall good health. This is an interesting statistic because Denmark is cold and has very short days. The average number of days that it rains per year is 170! That’s almost every other day! It seems as though more people would be likely to suffer from SAD in Denmark because of these statistics!
On another note, it is interesting that one of the treatments for SAD is anti-depressants. This brings me back to our discussion about coping or preventing these disorders. It seems that anti-depressants are not the appropriate treatment for this type of disorder, especially because the specific cause is unknown. Like Solomon mentioned, whenever we don’t feel “normal” we try to treat it using medication. For people experiencing SAD, they may feel as though anti-depressants are the only treatment, but more research must be done to determine whether this is appropriate before just handing out this powerful drug like candy. A better option may be light therapy or CBT, where people can learn to cope with these seasonal depression bouts without going straight to medication. In this case, a reoccurring saying may be appropriate. Mind over matter.