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by Lara Abu-Ghazaleh

The winter season is just a matter of rearranging the wardrobe and firing up the furnace for some, but for others, it triggers a period of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

 Around half a million people are overcome by this depression each winter and even more suffer from the “winter blues,” which is a milder form of SAD.

Psychiatrist Dr.Mohamed Gheith, insists that the condition is not fully understood as an illness, but believes the natural light theory is the most accepted understanding of how it develops.

“It is not fully understood as an illness but there are a lot of assumptions around how daylight affects certain chemicals in the body, like melatonin and serotonin, and these chemicals can have an impact on how we feel. In colder places, there tends to be more of a chance of going through longer winters with shorter daytime and shorter exposure to daylight, and hence there is more likelihood of having Seasonal Affective Disorder.”

Gary Hetland has been diagnosed with bipolar depression for some time now, but just recently doctors confirmed that the seasons add another component to his depression.

“I’ve noticed in the past that I’ve felt more depressed in the winter. I was diagnosed with bipolar depression a few years ago, but I get even more depressed during the winter. I think the thing I noticed the most is that there’s a lot less daylight in the winter time, it’s always overcast and that’s a lot different than the summertime where it’s constantly sunny,” he said.

“I think missing the sunlight and not being able to absorb some of that is the thing that affects me the most.” When asked if a trip to a hot climate would be an adequate fix for his seasonal depression, Hetland said “No, I think I’d probably feel the same way. It seems like the daylight has to be a pretty constant thing. I don’t think the relief would last much for being a short time away.”

Hetland is doubtful that he will ever be cured of SAD however, the use of light therapy has improved his condition. He has been using a special natural light for the past year.

“I think this is a pretty much a permanent condition. It must be biological or evolutionary based, so I don’t see ever getting rid of the condition, but the lamp does alleviate the symptoms I feel, so in that sense I am able to overcome it,” says Hetland. 

Some common symptoms of SAD include depression, anxiety, mood changes, sleep problems and overeating.  

Performing light therapy or joining an online support group are two ways you can brighten up your winter. 

Visit http://www.sada.org.uk/ for more details.

(Photo: Natural light lamp. Courtesy of ComfortChannel)

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