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The Roots Of Sad (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

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Growing up in Alaska certainly taught me how to live peacefully with the bear minimum in life. Hauling water from a creek in the back of my house, using an outhouse in fifty below zero weather, and above all, living for almost nine months with an extreme lack of sunlight. When I lived in Alaska I treasured the beautiful yet short summer months that seemed to come and go with such swiftness. The difference in weather and amount of sunlight that I got to enjoy was just as drastic as my mood in the wintertime compared to the summer. In the summer life seemed remarkably pleasurable, I was happier with my appearance, and I worried much less about petty obstacles that I was confronted with. Unlike in the wintertime when every little thing annoyed me, all I wanted to do was sleep and eat, nothing really had importance, and I was in a constant state of anxiety.

These mood swings seemed characteristic of the change in seasons and it became such a reoccurring experience that I simply learned to live with my seasonally mixed emotions. Until at age fourteen I moved from Alaska to California, Arizona, and then finally to Virginia, that during that time of travel I realized my moods were not as drastic compared to the change in seasons. This was when I learned of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a psychological disorder marked by the change in seasons. It

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seemed simple to me at first, yet when I learned more about the disorder and the people who it affected, I began to believe that SAD was a disorder that had a greater influence on a person who has a family history of depression and alcohol abuse. Which in my case my family had both, in addition to living in an area where the sun really only comes out three months out of the entire year. As a result I maintain the belief that SAD is a psychological disorder that can be found in people with a family history of depression and alcohol abuse when they are experiencing conditions of environmental isolation, rather than a psychological disorder stemming mainly from a change in seasons.

The research that can be found about SAD is in some ways very limited because it is a very recent diagnostic discovery. There really have only been studies conducted on people with possible SAD since 1984 when a man named Norman E. Rosenthal actually defined the psychological disorder (Lam). Since Rosenthal defined SAD as a syndrome characterized by recurrent depressions that occur annually at the same time each year characterized by hypersomnia, overeating, and carbohydrate craving (Newsome), there have been several studies conducted and published on people with possible SAD. Many of the studies that have been published for the general public focus mainly on the different forms of treatment for SAD, such as light therapy and different forms of Phototherapy, rather than focusing on the cause. Discovering the main causes of SAD would help to clearly identify who is actually in need of treatment related to light therapy compared to anti depressants. In my situation I had symptoms that were both characteristic of what identified SAD patients and patients suffering from mild forms of depression. When symptoms of one disorder are so closely related to symptoms of

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another type of disorder it is very important to identify a key differentiation, which I believe could be found in a person's family history.

Understanding the universality of SAD symptoms is just as important, for example, there have been reports of a sense of sadness, weight gain, loss and lethargy described by poets and seen in cultures and religions through ceremonial festivities marked by the change from summer to winter throughout the centuries (Watkins). Reports like these are still not reason alone to conclude that the seasons affect a person's psychological well being though. Some people love the winter months with the cold weather and decreased sunlight, while others, who are the typical candidates for light therapy because of a simplified diagnosis of SAD, thrive in the heat and pounding rays of sunlight. This difference with a person's seasonal preference and change in mood demonstrates why the cause could be deeper and rooted in the person's medical family history. It is also the reason why a deeper analysis of symptoms and diagnosis needs to be in place when treating someone for SAD. In my situation, I had seen several different doctors in order to find a cause or a cure for my mood and appetite disorders. Doctors had a different diagnosis, even though I stated the same symptoms to all of them.

The relative similarity between some of the many documented psychological disorders is a reason why different case studies have been conducted. For example, a case-control study conducted by JM Allen and others established that SAD patients demonstrated more atypical symptoms of depression compared to nonseasonal patients, both having similar genetic loading for mood disorders. In addition SAD patients were also determined to have family psychiatric history in first-degree relatives, as well as

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being more likely to have alcoholism in their families (Lam). Thus signifying the importance for investigating a person's family history before diagnosing them with the typical SAD associated with deprivation of light. When a person is treated with light or Phototherapy and their disorder stems deeper than lack of light no true cure and treatment has been accomplished, witnessed, or documented (Lam).

Due to the number of people that have been misdiagnosed with SAD, several studies have been conducted in order to determine if anti depressants have greater affects on curing symptoms associated with SAD patients compared to the treatment of light therapy. As a result case studies have suggested that such prescriptions as citaloprim, " a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor," where just as effective as light therapy (Wirz). This study and reports that another prescription called Fluoxetine are shown to be just as effective for SAD as compared to light therapy (Ruhrmann). Accordingly a question remains whether inhibitors, which are used for patients dealing with depression, are more effective than light therapy or if in combination they would work better than alone (Lam). A question that could be answered by deep investigation of a patient's individual and family history, which would show if depression is evident alone or along side feelings of deprivation of sunlight due to seasonal changes.

Other factors need to be considered in the diagnosis of SAD patients in order to determine the key difference between



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