Got That Wintertime Sadness?

The wise wizard Albus Dumbledore once said, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light.”

What most readers don’t know is that Dumbledore actually was talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – a form of depression linked with seasonal change – as well as a potential therapeutic option.

SAD may be related to a lack of sunlight striking the eyes, which can lead to changes in the brain that can present as a mood disturbance. People with SAD often experience it during winter, feeling lethargic and especially unmotivated when there is less sunlight.

Unfortunately for yinz, the winter struggle – and the mental toll it may take – can sometimes be all too real. The harsh and gray weather, and the pressure to stay indoors and study may make medical students especially vulnerable to SAD.

One popular therapy for SAD is a portable “light box,” which mimics the natural sunlight we would all enjoy in the summer outside – making “sunlight” available indoors regardless of the season. Patients typically turn on their light box in the morning and sit nearby for up to 45 minutes in a single daily treatment. Many people, including some of your fellow classmates and instructors, swear by their light boxes as a tool to prevent the winter blues. Others are not so sure.

Dumbledore, I do suppose, felt strongly about his light box.

It is important to note that the jury is still out on the causes of SAD and the effectiveness of the light box as a therapy. Despite the published evidence linking winter, the lack of sunshine and the usage of artificial light to improve SAD, there is still dispute among researchers.

We encourage you to do your own research on SAD, as well as on the variety of light boxes available before you make a purchase. Of course, a light box would only be one component of your wellness maintenance, along with a healthy diet and exercise. Remember that confidential counseling support at Pitt Med is always available.

For a primer on SAD and light boxes, access the resource, published by Mayo Clinic, below.

Photo credit: Wall Street Journal

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