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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression in which people become depressed each fall and perk up each spring. It is related to the reduction in sunlight in the fall and winter. People without full-blown SAD can feel the effects sometimes; on dark, dreary days, it is normal to feel the urge to curl up in front of a fire with a cup of tea and a good book. SAD is much more of a problem, though. It becomes very difficult to get out of bed. Motivation got packed away with the summer clothes. Chocolate and pasta become dietary staples. Then a depression sets in leading to the impulse to hibernate until spring.

There are a variety of methods that have been used to treat SAD. The most frequently used one is light therapy. In this method, people spend time in front of very bright lights in order to make up for the sunlight they are not getting. Alternately, they can try to spend more time outside. The problem with this is that the following fall, the same symptoms tend to appear.

The good news is that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has also been shown to be effective in the treatment of SAD (WSJ, Dec 1, 2009, D1,11). Using a series of techniques similar to those used in the treatment of Major Depressive Disorder, therapy focuses on the interaction between thoughts, behaviors, and moods. Starting with manageable activities, clients learn to return to their more enjoyable activities while countering the negative thoughts that get in the way. These skills do not depend on the level of light and, in fact, can be used as an inoculation that reduces the likelihood of developing full-blown SAD the next year.

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