Seasonal change can affect health

Published 11:46 am Tuesday, September 16, 2008

As the seasons change, the world looks different.

But for some people, it’s more than the leaves on the trees or the flowers on the ground.

“Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mental disorder where a person’s mental health status is affected by the season primarily during winter when we don’t have much sunlight,” said Flash Phipps, PhD/PCC-S, Lawrence County community support program supervisor at Shawnee Mental Health Center, Inc.

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People who live in higher latitude and are younger women tend to be more susceptible to SAD, Phipps said.

According to the Mayo Clinic Web site, SAD is caused by an interrupted circadian rhythm, which is a person’s internal clock. It is controlled by melatonin, which makes someone sleep, and serotonin, which affects one’s mood.

Phipps said the symptoms of SAD are common to those of minor depression.

It is diagnosed through eliminating many other factors and forms of depression using a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, he said.

The criteria for SAD includes episodes of depression at the same time each year with no other seasonally linked psychosocial reasons, no other substantial depression during patient’s lifetime and the seasonal depression must have occurred within the last two years only during season changes.

Phipps said symptoms of SAD include, but are not limited to overeating, lack of energy and motivation, cravings for carbohydrates and inability to think or concentrate.

“Depression is a trap. The things you need to do to fight it are the first things you don’t feel like doing,” he said. “You need to get sunlight by going out the house to prevent from getting depressed in the first place, but you are too tired to get outside.”

According to the Mayo Clinic Web site other less common forms have been seen during spring and summer months when those suffering from SAD may suffer from insomnia, be irritable and easily agitated. They may also have an increased sex drive, or Reverse SAD when a person is very social, experiences an elevated mood and shows inappropriate excitement.

Sunlight is the suggested method of treatment, Phipps said.

SAD lamps, which increase ultraviolet rays and take out vision-damaging blue lights, are used to improve one’s mood, and also low doses of anti-depressants, counseling and other methods, Phipps said.

He said some businesses in Washington have used SAD lamps in buildings and have reported an increased in employee productivity.

Phipps said the actual cause of the illness is unknown, but therapy methods have proven to be effective.

He said anyone interested in more information should contact the National Organization for Seasonal Affective Disorder at