As our skies darken, so do our moods, say recent studies on seasonal affective disorder (SAD): More than one in twenty Americans suffer from the condition. Dr. Melanie Katzman, a psychotherapist who runs New York’s Katzman Consulting, describes how to spot and treat the disorder.
What are the symptoms of SAD?
It is a variant of depression, so they are depressive symptoms: irritability, extra sleeping, low mood, over- or undereating, lethargy.
What is it about light that changes our mood?
The exact operating systems for that are yet to be scientifically confirmed. But it has to do with the production of melatonin, which regulates both mood and sleep cycles, and also the particular neurotransmitters that relate to mood.
How do you treat SAD?
Therapy can include medical antidepressants. But because it seems to be related to a lack of light—and the clue here is its seasonal onset—treating with white fluorescent light is an effective option.
Could someone not diagnosed with SAD benefit from light therapy?
Yes. If someone doesn’t meet all the criteria for a diagnosis but has some symptoms, he could still have a positive response. There are people at the very extremes who say, “Why doesn’t everybody have these light boxes?” There are people who say, “Every office should have a light box—what’s the downside?”
So what is?
People who are very sensitive could become manic. Anyone who has an overresponse to light boxes could become irritable and hyper and not be able to sleep at night. Really, you should ask your doctor about it before you get one.
For patients dealing with SAD, Katzman recommends this nonglare Sunbox desk lamp, which doubles as a therapy-grade light box. With its neck bent up, it delivers up to 10,000 lux, the standard therapy level when positioned fourteen inches away from the face ($249 at sunbox.com or 800-548-3968).