Cynthia Bjorlie, M.D. Directors Corner - Founder of Adult Foster Care of the North Shore

Director's Corner

Seasonal Depression (Seasonal Defective Disorder)

Seasonal Depression (Seasonal Defective Disorder)

Seasonal depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, is related to the change of seasons, most often Fall becoming Winter. It is a type of depression that has been officially recognized by the medical community affecting women twice as often as men and usually has an onset before the age of 21.

Decreased sunlight leads to changes that affect our bodies and hormones. Less light leads to decreased levels of serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression. The seasonal change can also disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

Symptoms of seasonal depression include loss of energy, change in sleep pattern, loss of concentration, change in eating patterns, and feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and guilt.

A common treatment is light therapy or phototherapy. There are many at-home light therapy devices, or light boxes, on the market that mimic outdoor light. Researchers believe this type of light causes a chemical change in the brain that lifts your mood and eases other symptoms. These devices should provide an exposure to 10,000 lux of light while emitting as little UV light as possible.

Recommendations include using the light box:

  • Within the first hour of waking up in the morning
  • For about 20 to 30 minutes
  • At a distance of about 16 to 24 inches from the face

Your doctor may recommend a specific light box, but most health insurance plans do not cover the cost. However, these devices are available without a prescription. The light boxes are designed to be safe and effective, but they aren’t government approved or regulated.

When to see a doctor

It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or you feel hopeless or think about suicide.


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