Feature Archive

Sunshine For SAD Sufferers

As winter approaches and the days get shorter, millions of people once again develop the sadness and loss of energy that is characteristic of seasonal affective disorder. Find out what's behind this mysterious condition and what can be done about it.

WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Michael Smith

For years, Merril suffered through what he calls the "murky mess" of winters in Utah.

As the days grew shorter and clouds hid the sun for days or weeks at a time, Merril found his appetite for carbohydrates increased, his ability to get work done decreased, and his moods grew darker. "I'd fly off the handle at the least provocation," he says. "By February, my students let me know I was not fit to be around any more."

Out of desperation he'd head up into the mountains above the clouds and ski in the sunshine. After an hour or two he'd start feeling better. He attributed it to the change of scenery, getting himself out of the classroom and away from the work routine.

But about 15 years ago, Merril discovered the real cure wasn't the scenery, but the sunshine. His problem? A newly diagnosed condition called seasonal affective disorder.

Diagnosing Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, was first described in 1984 by Norman Rosenthal, MD, medical director of Capital Clinical Research Associates and the author of Winter Blues. Seasonal affective disorder is regarded as a kind of major depression and has many of the same symptoms: loss of energy, change in appetite, tendency to oversleep, difficulty concentrating, and irritability.