Story Tools: PRINT | Text Size: S M L XL | REPORT TYPO | SEND YOUR FEEDBACK
Vancouver's UBC Hospital Mood Disorder Clinic says about two per cent of Canadians suffer from a seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression that occurs during the darker, colder months of the year. (David Zalubowski/AP)

In Depth

Mental Health

SAD: Dealing with seasonal affective disorder

Coping tips

Last Updated Feb. 29, 2008

Pedestrians brace against strong winds as they climb a hill in St. John's as a snowstorm hits the Newfoundland capital on Dec. 28, 2007. Research indicates that people are crabbier, more depressed and lazier in the light-deprived winter. (Jonathan Hayward/CP)

Sub-zero temperatures, shorter days, longer nights — Canadian winters aren't the most inviting. Although many people embrace this time of year and take advantage of snow sports and festivities, at least 600,000 Canadians have a particular reason to dread winter, according to figures from Vancouver's UBC Hospital Mood Disorder Clinic.

The clinic says about two per cent of Canadians suffer from a seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression that occurs during the darker, colder months of the year.

Jennifer Hicks is among them.

Five years ago, Hicks was diagnosed with SAD. As she describes the heavy feeling that descends on her in the snowy weather, there's little inflection in her voice.

"I can add (inflection) in but it's difficult, it's not natural. It's also harder to smile. It takes more effort and doesn't feel genuine," she says. "When the daylight is around, I have energy. When [the sun] goes or it's cloudier, everything becomes more difficult. I don't want to be responsible to make decisions.

"It's like I go into survival mode — I can take care of the necessary things like paying bills, but laundry and cooking I have to let go of. I just can't manage it. I have a 'why bother' attitude," Hicks explains. "It's a very pervasive feeling. It's always there. It's like a dreadful, heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach from October to March."

Degrees of SADness

According to the Mood Disorder Society of Canada, two to four per cent of Canadians suffer from full-blown SAD.

Dr. Raymond Lam, professor of psychiatry and medical director of the Mood Disorder center at the University of British Columbia, says that another 15 per cent of the population has a milder form of SAD, typically called the winter blahs. "Like anything else in psychiatry, there are degrees � SAD is at the extreme end of the spectrum."

The most common symptoms of SAD include extreme fatigue, oversleeping, not being able to get out of bed, overeating, carbohydrate cravings and weight gain. It can also be accompanied by the regular symptoms of depression, such as low mood, loss of interest in activities and trouble concentrating.

"In other sorts of depression, people have a loss of appetite and often lose weight or they have insomnia. People with SAD usually have the opposite symptoms," he explains.

Coping strategies

Hicks' condition lies on the extreme end of the spectrum and it's forced her to make some serious life changes. Once a full-time speech pathologist with a clientele of brain injury sufferers, she has scaled back to just a few clients. Speech pathology isn't the main focus of her life any more.

"That became stressful and a little too strained," she says of her former career.

Hicks now works as a "Nia" instructor. Nia is a body-mind-spirit cardiovascular fitness practice that combines dance and martial arts techniques. She finds this helps her regulate her mood and alleviate the symptoms of SAD.

Hicks has also been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, which is not uncommon in people with SAD. Because of the dual diagnoses and her desire not to over-medicate, Hicks uses lifestyle management, rather than drugs, to find relief.

"I've been through a lot of therapy so I know what to do. I have to make sure I am keeping active, not retreating or withdrawing and surround myself with positive people," she says.

Hicks adds that not watching the news and getting enough sleep also makes a big difference.

Seasonal affective disorder, like many mental illnesses, can also be treated and managed by various methods, including light therapy, medication and cognitive behaviour therapy. Those with less severe cases can often find some relief through regular exercise and outdoor activity.

According to the Mayo Clinic, light therapy, also called bright light therapy or phototherapy, has been used to treat SAD seasonal affective disorder since the early 1980s. Many mental health professionals now consider light therapy to be standard treatment for seasonal affective disorder. It involves sitting, eyes wide open, in front of a light box — a small, portable device that contains fluorescent bulbs or tubes — for approximately 30 minutes a day.

The light emitted from the device mimics natural light and causes a biochemical change in the brain that lightens mood and helps relieve SAD symptoms. It is not the same light that is found in tanning beds, so there is no risk of getting a burn or UV exposure.

"Sixty to 80 per cent of people with SAD find substantial relieve from using light therapy," Lam said.

According to a study done at the UBC Mood Disorder Clinic, light seems to work as well as medication. Light therapy has slightly fewer side effects than drugs, but Lam adds that many people don't have any side-effects to medication so it isn't normally an issue.

"It's often a matter of preference," Lam said. "The two therapies seems to be equally effective."

Cognitive behaviour therapy, meanwhile, is a type of counselling that focuses on modifying certain thoughts and behaviour patterns to control the symptoms of a condition.

CBT is often used to treat anxiety and depression, but its effects on SAD in particular haven't been studied as thoroughly as those of light therapy, and so it isn't normally a physician's first recommendation for treatment.

While there are several approaches to treating SAD, Lam recommends getting a proper diagnosis and treatment advice from a professional before issuing a self-diagnosis and purchasing a special light or murmuring CBT mantras.

Go to the Top

Story Tools: PRINT | Text Size: S M L XL | REPORT TYPO | SEND YOUR FEEDBACK

World »

Historic Myanmar peace conference aims to end decades of violence
Myanmar begins a historic peace conference on Wednesday, with the aim of ending decades of violence between the Myanmar Army and ethnic armed groups that has claimed thousands of lives.
Justin Trudeau suggests China improve its image by tightening ties with Canada video
Justin Trudeau delivered a message to powerful business leaders in Beijing on Tuesday, shortly after his plane touched down: China needs a little more Canada.
Sperm donor at heart of Canadian lawsuits admits he lied to company Xytex, police say
An American who fathered more than 30 children through sperm donations, including at least seven in Canada, has admitted he lied to a sperm bank about his background, police said.
more »

Canada »

Federal study shines new light on homeless Indigenous people, veterans
Fewer beds remain empty each night in Canada's emergency homeless shelters as users stay days, sometimes weeks, longer than they did a decade ago, even as their overall numbers decline.
Crossbow slayings victims were mother, 2 brothers of accused killer video
The victims of last week's so-called crossbow killings in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough were the mother and two brothers of the man now charged with three counts of first-degree murder.
Updated How a Woodbridge woman got a fraudster to admit his CRA threat was a scam video
How do you scam a scammer? Just ask Dawn Belmonte.
more »

Politics »

Updated 30 punished for sexual misconduct, 97 cases under investigation, National Defence says video
The Canadian Armed Forces says it is making progress in the fight against sexual misconduct in the ranks, but much more work needs to be done.
Justin Trudeau suggests China improve its image by tightening ties with Canada video
Justin Trudeau delivered a message to powerful business leaders in Beijing on Tuesday, shortly after his plane touched down: China needs a little more Canada.
Ontario guaranteed-income pilot moves ahead with new report
Former Conservative senator Hugh Segal delivers a key report this week on a plan by Ontario to launch a pilot project to guarantee a minimum income for participants in a community still to be selected. In an interview, Segal gives some hints about the report's contents — and rebuts critics who say such programs foster laziness.
more »

Health »

Sorry - we can't find that page
 
CBC.ca

Sorry, we can't find the page you requested.

  1. Please check the URL in the address bar, or ...
  2. Use the navigation links at left to explore our site, or ...
  3. Enter a term in the Quick Search box at top, or ...
  4. Visit our site map page

In a few moments, you will be taken to our site map page, which will help you find what you looking for.

more »

Arts & Entertainment»

Chris Brown's home visited by L.A. police after call from woman
Authorities responded to singer Chris Brown's Los Angeles home early Tuesday after a woman called police seeking assistance, officials said.
Every Tragically Hip album finds a place on latest Canadian Billboard chart
Canada's insatiable appetite for the Tragically Hip has sent the rock band's entire discography back onto the national Billboard charts.
New PlayStation 4 Slim images appear weeks before Sony press event
Several images and videos of a slimmer Sony PlayStation 4 console have surfaced online, weeks ahead of its expected announcement.
more »

Technology & Science »

Dogs really do understand human language, study suggests
Scientists have found evidence to support what many dog owners have long believed: man's best friend really does understand some of what we're saying.
PlayStation 4 Slim images appear weeks before Sony press event
Several images and videos of a slimmer Sony PlayStation 4 console have surfaced online, weeks ahead of its expected announcement.
New Squishy 'Octobot' may point to future of robotics
When you think of a robot, you might imagine a metallic humanoid — and indeed, most robots today have hard, rigid bodies made of metal and plastic. But CBC Radio technology columnist Dan Misener explains why the softer, more flexible robot nicknamed the 'Octobot' may be a sign of robots to come.
more »

Money »

Breaking NEB cancels full week of Montreal's Energy East hearings after protest
The National Energy Board says it won't be holding any hearings into the Energy East pipeline project this week in Montreal following Monday's protest.
4 reasons you should care about canola's role in Canada-China relations video
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's first official visit to China coincides with a Sept. 1 deadline that the Asian economic giant has set for Canadian producers to tighten their screening of our exports of canola to the country.
Potash Corp., Agrium in merger talks
Saskatoon-based Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan and Agrium Inc. of Calgary have confirmed they are in merger talks, a combination could produce a fertilizer giant worth more than $30 billion.
more »

Consumer Life »

Sorry - we can't find that page
 
CBC.ca

Sorry, we can't find the page you requested.

  1. Please check the URL in the address bar, or ...
  2. Use the navigation links at left to explore our site, or ...
  3. Enter a term in the Quick Search box at top, or ...
  4. Visit our site map page

In a few moments, you will be taken to our site map page, which will help you find what you looking for.

more »

Sports »

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Analysis Blue Jays face crucial final month of season
Once again, the Toronto Blue Jays face an all-important September schedule as they try to secure a spot in the post-season. Here's a look at their opponents and how they stack up.
Rio 2016 Paralympics: CBC Sports to provide extensive coverage
The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games are just over a week away and CBC/Radio-Canada is ready to bring Canadians up close to all of the thrills and emotion of the athletic competition with more than 1,000 hours of available coverage.
Analysis CFL Power Rankings: Stamps still the team to beat video
With a disciplined win over Hamilton that pushed their record to 7-1-1, the Calgary Stampeders remain on top of our CFL power rankings.
more »

Diversions »

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
more »