# Tuesday, January 26, 2010
                 
Many Canadians experience what is known as 'the winter blues'. Shorter daylight hours, combined with the anticlimactic feeling once the holiday season is over, can make people feel somewhat dejected. While feeling blue is a normal human reaction to life, some people experience clinical depression throughout the winter months. This is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and can be quite problematic. While it is normal and healthy for all people to experience some forms of feeling mildly depressed during the winter months, SAD is a form of clinical depression that is triggered by the winter season.

People who are suffering from SAD experience such symptoms as:

•    Feeling down constantly;
•    Low energy;
•    Sleep difficulties (either not being able to sleep or oversleeping);
•    Appetite difficulties, including sudden cravings for foods that are high in carbohydrates;
•    Lack of interest in what is happening in life and activities that were normally enjoyed;
•    Concentration difficulties and difficulties in processing information;
•    Feelings of depression, hopelessness, and/or anxiety;
•    Social withdrawal;
•    Weight gain.

Researchers believe that SAD is the result of the days becoming shorter in the winter months. Studies have suggested that SAD is more prevalent in northern countries; this is a result of winter days being shorter in the more northern countries. It is estimated that two to three percent of the population of Ontario suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder every year. As well, studies have shown that up to 100,000 people who reside in British Columbia experience SAD every year. A much larger percentage of the Canadian population suffers from the 'winter blahs' with symptoms very similar to SAD, but not to the extent of fitting the criteria for clinical depression.

The current typical treatment for SAD is light therapy, also known as phototherapy. This requires the person experiencing the symptoms of SAD to be exposed to bright artificial light. This treatment mimics the person being exposed to the level of sunlight normally experienced during the summer months. These light boxes can be purchased and used in the person's home; the majority of people have a significant positive result from as little as 30 minutes a day of being exposed to a special fluorescent light box. The most common ‘dose’ of light is 10,000 lux. Lux is a measure of light intensity. Typically, indoor light is under 400 lux; a cloudy day is typically 3,000 lux; a sunny bright day is typically more than 50,000.

Portable light boxes are safe and are now commercially available for those who experience the symptoms of SAD and typically cost between $200 and $400. The side effects of using a light box are usually quite mild; some people may experience nausea, headaches, eye strain, and/or feeling 'edgy' when they first start to use light therapy. These negative feelings usually do not last long and will go away as the therapy progresses. Anti-depressant medications may also be effective for those who are experiencing severe reactions to the lack of sunlight.

If you are experiencing these symptoms during the winter months, consult with your health care professional about whether or not light therapy may be beneficial for you. Also check your individual and/or group health plan to see if the cost of a fluorescent light box is covered through your health insurance.

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