Curing the blues

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that should not be dismissed simply as the blues, especially by those who suffer from its sometimes debilitating symptoms.

“It’s like having a major depression disorder,” said Dr. Robert Gerstman, a Geisinger Medical Center psychiatrist.

Gerstman has treated a number of people over the years with Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as SAD.

It tends to occur as the days grow shorter in the fall and winter.

Symptoms vary but can include fatigue, depression, crying spells, irritability, body aches, loss of sex drive and poor sleep.

For some SAD sufferers it can bring thoughts of suicide.

It is treated by therapy and/or medication and affects about 5 percent of the U.S. adult population.

“Depression is not something to be taken lightly,” Gerstman said.

Unfortunately, many people go untreated.

Even today, Gerstman said many people are ashamed to seek help for any sort of mental disorder.

But there’s no reason for SAD sufferers to remain in the grip of darkness.

How does one know that he or she is suffering from SAD and not general depression, or merely the blues?

“One way to know is to see an established pattern,” Gerstman said.

For example, people who annually experience depression during those months when the sunshine is in shorter supply might well be in the grip of SAD.

Too often, SAD sufferers ignore such negative feelings.

“Some people say they don’t like the holidays,” Gerstman said.

For many people, symptoms of SAD can stretch from as early as the beginning of September right through the spring months.

However, SAD can affect people in the summer months as well, although some of the symptoms are different.

Overall, SAD commonly affects people residing in areas of the world where there is less sunlight.

Specific causes of SAD are unknown.

Genetics, age and perhaps the body’s natural chemical makeup may play a role in developing the condition.

The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may disrupt the body’s internal clock, which lets one know whether to be asleep or awake, according to the website. The disruption of the circadian rhythm may lead to feelings of depression.

A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical affecting mood, also might play a role in seasonal affective disorder.

In addition, the change in season can disrupt the balance of the natural hormone melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

Among the treatments for SAD are exposure to bright light, particularly fluorescent lights.

The light treatment is used daily in the morning and evening, according to information from

Relocation to places with natural light such as the Caribbean can achieve similar results.

Gerstman said treatment through phototherapy can bring positive results in just a matter of a few weeks.

Phototherapy is commercially available in the form of light boxes.

“All you need is a half hour a day (of exposure),” he said.

The light must be of sufficient brightness, approximately 25 times as bright as a normal living room light, according to