Health Problems “In the Bleak Midwinter”

A contact of mine wrote a post on Facebook, asking if anyone could share their personal experience using a light box or taking Vitamin D to help relieve the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). He mentioned that he was a small business owner and expressed concerns that he might experience some negative reaction from customers because he had admitted that he suffered from SAD.

I told him that after consulting with my doctor, I purchased a “happy” light which I do use for thirty minutes every morning from November until March. I know that using it makes me feel more energetic and helps with the “blah” feeling that the shorter hours of daylight bring on every year. I also take Vitamin D. Once the hours of daylight increase in the Spring, I stop using my light. I told him that doing the same might make a difference for him too.

The symptoms of SAD can include feeling sad or depressed, losing interest in activities you used to enjoy, changes in appetite (especially eating more and craving carbohydrates), sleeping more, and a loss of energy or increased fatigue despite increased sleep hours. If this sounds like you, you may be affected by SAD, and the first step of treatments should be to consult with a healthcare professional.

If the consultation confirms that you have SAD, you are definitely not alone. Many people suffer from it. I suspect that most people who live in areas where the number of daylight hours is reduced following the Fall Equinox have SAD — it just may not be severe enough for everyone to realize that they are affected. The onset is gradual, so it is easy to be unaware of what is happening. SAD is especially common among those who live in more northerly latitudes. In Scandinavia, some sources estimate that up to 19% of the population has it. Here in Alberta, it seems that at least 10% of residents suffer from SAD. That means at least one in every ten people! Our rate may be lower than some other northern locations, because we are fortunate enough to enjoy many sunny days in winter, which encourage people to be active outside despite the cold. Gloomy, grey days are less enticing.

As to my Facebook contact’s concerns about a potential negative effect on his business after disclosing that he does have SAD, I wondered if, had he admitted to having broken a bone, suffering from asthma, or contracting the flu, his customers would have been equally concerned. Sadly, it seems that for many, a mental health concern is still less acceptable than a physical illness.