Essential Pittsburgh
7:23 pm
Fri January 31, 2014

Seasonal Affective Disorder Not So Different From Non-Seasonal Depression

Fewer hours of sunlight is the biggest factor in the winter onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Credit catskills grrl / flickr

As soon as the clocks change each fall, do you feel like your body goes into hibernation mode?

When winter mood shifts bring us to the point of depression, the experience is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as S.A.D., and the mental health effects can be devastating for some people.

Kathryn Roecklein, Assistant professor in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Psychology and Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition at Pitt and CMU studies and treats S.A.D.

She says, contrary to what some people think, S.A.D. is not a response to cold weather, but the shorter days of winter and lack of sunlight.

Her current research looks at a gene found in the retina that responds to sunlight and influences circadian rhythms. The gene known as melanopsin can increase a person's chance of developing S.A.D.

Some of the changes Roecklein sees from patients are the same symptoms she sees from people who suffer from non-seasonal depression.

"We see a depressed mood, a loss of interest in normally interesting activities. People find they're less interested in socializing. They may have feelings of guilt or worthlessness, and we see changes in sleep and eating."

Reocklein says light therapy is the first line of treatment for S.A.D., whether it's real sunlight or a special light therapy lamp.