Think You Have SAD? Think Again

It’s that time of year again. The clocks have gone back, it’s dark by the time you finish your work, the cold, dark, dreary weather is coming. THE memes about how depressed you’re going to be.

As the days grow darker earlier in the northern latitudes, an affliction sets in. Not just a banal discontent with darker evenings, but the elements of real mental illness. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is estimated to affect approximately 10 percent of people in northern latitudes. It is often marked by a bad mood, a craving for carbohydrates and fatigue that persists despite excessive sleep and lasts for an entire season. It is estimated that women are approximately three times more vulnerable than men. A set industry flourished to treat it with light therapy, and he even succeeded in the courtroom.

But despite affecting so many people, the very existence of SAD remains a point of contention.

The condition was described for the first time in 1984 in the magazine JAMA Psychiatry by Norman Rosenthal, a South African psychiatrist. The inspiration came from his own temperament: after moving from South Africa to New York in 1976, Rosenthal noticed that he lacked energy and productivity in winter. When the snow began to melt, his productivity increased again.

Around the same time, during his second year of psychiatric research, Rosenthal met Herb Kern, a scientist who had documented the seasonal patterns of his depression for years. Rosenthal and his colleagues decided to try treating Kern’s condition with light therapy. This involves using light boxes to replace the sun’s rays, the idea being that they would extend one’s day with artificial light. It worked.

After a 1981 Washington Post article After describing their research, thousands of people got in touch, describing similar winter malaise. Rosenthal and his colleagues collected enough for a study of 29 bipolar patients in Maryland. They tried light therapy treatment again, with success. (In a 2020 interview, Rosenthal said the shortcut on the nose for the disease quickly followed because they were looking for a “catchy acronym.”)

Three years later, in 1987, a seasonal pattern of depression was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental DisordersOr DSM, often called the bible of psychiatry. But SAD is not listed as a disease in its own right, but rather a type of recurring major depression that appears each year during a specific season. (There is also a subcategory of SAD, the less severe version of seasonal affective disorder commonly known as “winter blues.”) The most common subtype of SAD occurs in winter, although it can occur with the arrival of other seasons, including winter. summer.

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