by Stephanie Henderson
I hit the snooze button for the third time, begrudgingly slumped out of bed and opened my curtains. It was still raining.
Here at APA headquarters in Washington, DC, it has been raining every day for the last three weeks.
Later that morning, during one of our routine chats, my mother asked me, “Are you doing okay? I know how down you can get when the sun hasn’t shined for a few days.” It was a valid question, considering that to keep me motivated in the winter I often play songs that remind me of summer. Although I have never been clinically diagnosed, her question made me think about seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Although many of us complain about the “winter blues,” SAD can severely affect one’s day-to-day life. The APA Dictionary of Psychology (2007) defines SAD as:
A mood disorder in which there is a predictable occurrence of major depressive episodes, manic episodes, or both at particular times of the year. The typical pattern is the occurrence of major depressive episodes during the fall or winter months. Also called seasonal mood disorder.
In Creating Well-Being: Four Steps to a Happier, Healthier Life, Pamela A. Hays (2014) explores the importance of light in improving one’s general well-being. While describing her time spent living in Alaska, Hays notes that during the winter the sun shines for only a few hours each day and for some people, this can lead to depression. She then goes on to say that “exposure to outdoor light helps to counter seasonal affective disorder” (p. 131) and cites studies that have shown how light that mimics sunlight can have similar effects.
Although SAD has only recently been recognized as a mental health diagnosis, research on SAD is steadily increasing. This past March, the National Institute of Mental Health published a comprehensive web page exploring SAD: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/seasonalaffectivedisorder.html). More research still needs to be done, but in the meantime, let’s hope that “the sun will come out tomorrow!”
Hays, P. (2014). Creating well-being: Four steps to a happier, healthier life. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2007). APA dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.