FAQ About SAD and Light Box Treatments

What is seasonal affective disorder, and how can a therapeutic light help you to overcome this common condition? Also known as SAD, seasonal affective disorder affects five percent of American adults, according to the American Psychiatric Association. If you think you may have this disorder, take a look at what you need to know about SAD and light therapy treatment.

Is SAD a Type of Depression?

Yes, seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression. Also known as seasonal or winter depression, SAD is categorized in the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern.

Why Does SAD Happen?

SAD doesn’t have one specific cause. Like other types of depression, SAD may be caused by reduced serotonin activity. This neurotransmitter regulates the mood. Some research has found that sunlight has an effect on the body’s ability to maintain serotonin levels, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This is one possible reason for the winter-time seasonal nature of SAD. Other potential causes of SAD include changes in melatonin levels or a vitamin D deficiency.

What Are the Symptoms of SAD?

As a depressive disorder, SAD symptoms are similar to what you might experience with general depression. The timing is the primary difference between SAD depression and other types of depression. Instead of constant or persistent depression, people with SAD have more noticeable symptoms during part of the year – typically during the winter months.

Specific symptoms of SAD may include loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy, lower energy, sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, changes in weight, feeling hopeless, feeling guilty, or agitation. Some people may also have suicidal thoughts.

How Often Will You Experience SAD Symptoms?

According to the National Library of Medicine, people with SAD may experience symptoms for 40 percent of the year. Again, this typically occurs during the winter months – but may start in the fall and extend into the spring. Even though you may have SAD annually, 30 to 50 percent of people with this depressive disorder don’t have symptoms consecutively (winter after winter).

Can You Stop SAD?

SAD symptoms can get in the way of your daily life. Depression can make it difficult to work, go to school, spend time with your family, or just enjoy life. While you can’t stop the seasons from changing, you can reduce the effects of seasonal affective disorder.

The first step towards treatment is a diagnosis from a mental health professional. A counselor or psychiatrist will evaluate you for signs of depression, take a full health/mental health history, and possibly order blood or other types of lab testing (to rule out another possible condition). A SAD diagnosis requires that you meet the criteria specified in the DSM-5.

After you have a diagnosis, you can take the next step and start treatment. Light therapy is one of the top ways to counteract SAD and relieve seasonal depression. This type of treatment requires the use of a specialized light box that mimics the sun’s natural light. It’s believed that this type of artificial light exposure can change neurotransmitter levels and boost the mood. The American Psychiatry Association notes that a light box may require 20 minutes or more of use daily.

Which Light Therapy Box Is Right for You?

The answer to this question depends on your individual needs. Your doctor can help you to decide what you need in a light box. Before you buy a therapeutic light box, consider how and when you’ll use it. Ideally, you should use the light therapy box within the first few hours after waking in the morning. If you travel often for work or have a vacation planned, a light-weight, portable light box or lamp allows you to continue your therapy when you’re not at home.

Do you need a travel-ready light box or another type of light therapy device? Contact Corner Home Medical for more information.