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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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It's the SAD Season

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Nov 29th 2011

It's the SAD SeasonSAD...the situation is familiar; October draws to a close, the days are already shorter and, as a result, there are fewer hours of sunlight. Clouds darken the sky and, in some places, snow begins to fall before the official start of winter. For some people, the changing season is the catalyst for Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly known as SAD.

SAD is a form of depression. What distinguishes it from other types of affective disorders is its attachment to the calendar. Is this easy to understand? Not so fast! The changing season also brings with it, the holiday season. Beginning with Halloween and Thanksgiving and ending with Christmas and New Year celebrations, some people become depressed because they feel left out of the holiday fun, remember friends and family lost or experience nostalgia for the past. While depression can ebb during the year, SAD is marked by its association with the time of year when it occurs.

Some mental health professionals have pointed out that its not by chance that the holiday season involves lights. For example, during Chrismas, Christians adorn their trees, homes and landscapes with festive lights. In Judaism, Hanukah, the Festival of Lights, happens during the same season. In other words, in addition to history or religious belief, it is the wish for light that underlies much of this.

Whatever underlies SAD, these feelings of depression must be taken seriously. Lethargy, impaired functioning at home and work, irritability, suicidal thinking and feeling hopelessness are all symptomatic of this affective disorder.

First and foremost is the importance of anyone experiencing depression seeing their physician. One of the recommended treatments for SAD is "light therapy." While light boxes are sold over the counter, I strongly urge treating this like any prescription. Follow your physician's guidelines. Used incorrectly, light therapy has the potential for being harmful.

Inclement weather during the winter causes many to remain indoors, exacerbating depression. Therefore, it's important to prepare for the fall and winter by planning to be outside, going for walks, taking advantage of any sun that might show itself and exercising with your physician's approval.

Additional treatments include psychotherapy and, perhaps, anti depressant medication.

Your comments and questions are welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

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