SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER is a very real winter solstice occurrence for some seven percent of Canadians– with that ratio increasing the further north one resides. In its other two forms, this affliction enhances the

pre-existent depressive state of about one quarter of the population or unmasks the latent depression of many more. With this “BLAH” factor affecting nearly half of us, you would expect more would be understood about the physiology; but the lack of specificity in symptoms kept the syndrome off the priority fast track. Complaints of low energy, disinterest in usual activities, sleep disorders, school and workplace dysfunction, increase in appetite and weight gain, substance abuse– both prescription and street source– top the list though obsessing about death and even suicide are increasing in prevalence.

This is a disease of the young, and is more prevalent in females, especially those with a documented family history. Symptoms can begin as early as October hitting a peak in February and subsiding as we traverse in to Spring. In a perfect world, we would all live at the equator but we do not and we cannot; so what exactly is this “Canadian” of diseases? It’s all tied in to your personal biological clock(s) and the body’s daily circadian rhythm. Light entering the eye triggers signals from the retina to the hypothalamus section in the brain. Here, the suprachiasmatic nucleus, the SCN, sends signals to other components of the neurological system controlling such diverse functions as hormone releases, body temperature and of course, sleep cycles . That’s enough science. And yes, you do have a “pea brain” It’s actually a pea size component of the brain called the PINEAL GLAND. Dormant during the day, the SCN turns it on as dusk reduces light sources and the sleep hormone melatonin is released. At sunrise, the clock shuts the gland off, melatonin levels drop and we wake to start the rhythm again. Some of the modern world’s advantages such as shift work, long distance air travel, even daylight saving time can impact this mechanism.

If any of the above sounds personally similar, see your physician or nurse practitioner. It’s important not to mislabel yourself if the underlying problem is a thyroid disorder (very common) or a prescription side effect (even more likely).

Equally important is to screen for a primary depression disorder. Bottom line is everything listed above is treatable. For the specific S.A.D. disorder,” getting out of DODGE” for a week or two into a sunny clime providing  bright sunlight and a vitamin D surge offers an immediate, quick but not permanent fix. For the majority of us with schedules to keep (aka publisher), the first and best course of action is to simulate dawn at the usual summer time schedule. There are purchasable LUX source lighting systems that accomplish this but brighter bedroom and bathroom lighting to bombard the retina may work just as well. There are several medications in two groupings that are also proven to help but again, the expense and possible side  effects  issue don’t make them my first choice. As this is an affliction of younger females, the medications are not recommended anyway if there is a possibility of pregnancy and/or breast feeding. And my final caveat…


Dr. David Carll

Providing a Fresh Perspective for Burlington and Hamilton.

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