Beat the Winter Blues with Dr. Kelly Rohan
If you’ve ever wished that you could hibernate through the dreary months from January 2nd through March, you’re not alone. Between harsh winds, freezing temperatures and decreased sunlight, winter can be tough on your body and mind. In the 1980s, Dr. Norman Rosenthal did groundbreaking research and discovered that Seasonal Affective Disorder (or S.A.D.) was causing people to withdraw into depressive states during the winter. Since then, there’s been a lot of progress and increased interest in the subject, as well as more ways to combat the disorder. We spoke with Dr. Kelly Rohan, a professor at the University of Vermont and a leading researcher on Seasonal Affective Disorder, about what causes seasonal depression, how to identify the symptoms, and her preferred method of treatment. Read on below and see which product available at Simon can aid in your battle against the winter blues.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a relatively new form of depression. How did you come to be involved in the research and studying of S.A.D.?
I was in the right place at the right time. I did my clinical psychology graduate training at the University of Maine in Orono, ME in the 1990s, working under the tutelage of a mentor whose work focused on adult depression. While working on those studies, I noticed an uptick in the number of depressed people to study in fall and winter, but you could hear crickets in the lab during the spring and summer months.
What are some of the signs or symptoms of S.A.D. that readers can be on the lookout for?
One thing most people do not realize is that SAD is a form of clinical depression that takes on a seasonal pattern in onset and offset. The symptoms include feeling depressed, losing interest or pleasure in one’s usual activities, fatigue, a significant change in sleep length (most commonly, sleeping more than usual), a substantial change in appetite or weight (most commonly, eating more starches or sugars), concentration difficulties, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and (rarely but seriously) thoughts of death or suicide. For most people with SAD, the symptoms begin to trickle in around the end of Daylight Savings Time in the fall and linger through the winter months until spring arrives.
We know that winter’s lack of light and cold weather can be triggers for S.A.D., but are there any other prevailing causes of seasonal depression?
Research indicates that the length of the day from dawn to dusk is the strongest environmental trigger of SAD onset and is also the strongest predictor of how bad SAD-related depressive symptoms are at any given time. However, the real question is: What makes people with SAD become depressed in response to short photoperiods in the fall/winter months? The most popular explanation is that later sunsets cause the biological clock to run slow in people who are vulnerable to SAD, placing them in a “jet-lagged state” that lasts the entire winter season.
What method(s) of treatment have you found are the most effective in combating S.A.D.? Are there any ways that people can stave off the effects of gloomy weather and less light?
There are three SAD treatments with research studies to support their effectiveness. The most tested SAD treatment is light therapy, involving daily exposure to bright artificial light. Although light therapy devices are commercially available without prescription, I recommend that people pursue light therapy under the supervision of a provider with some expertise in light therapy.
Since 2000, my laboratory at the University of Vermont has been developing and testing cognitive-behavioral therapy targeting negative thought and behavior patterns to improve depressive symptoms for SAD. Over three years, we found fewer recurrences and less severe symptoms in people who were treated with CBT than in those who received light therapy. These results suggest that CBT has enduring effects that persist after treatment ends, which is beneficial for a recurrent form of depression like SAD.
*If you want to try CBT for SAD out, you can go to the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies Find a Therapist and the Academy of Cognitive Therapy websites to find a certified cognitive therapist.*
We, at Simon, have gathered up a few of our favorite happiness-inducing products to help you through, including light machines, exercise equipment, and the best books to guide you through. Counting down to spring!