A little known ailment called seasonal affective disorder

By Dr Ummer Rashid Zargar 
Human life is closely related with the happenings around its surroundings. The external environment directly or indirectly influences the well being of the human race. In order to adjust the external influence, human body has got its own mechanism by which it can adjust external alterations.
The biological clock in our body takes stock of everything happening outside. Imagine what happens to this clock if someone visits from India to New York. A common ailment is jetlag in which the biological clock of a patient is disturbed and he is not able to adjust in the new environment, though it is temporary. There are many examples in which our internal biological clock is disturbed. Some people experience a serious mood change when there is a natural change of seasons. They may sleep too much and feel little energy to do some work. Though symptoms can be severe, they usually clear up. Sometimes it may be detrimental to health if not properly treated.
It is said that “winter is a season of recovery and preparation”, but for some it is a season of anxiety and feeling of loneliness. In our daily life we hardly recognise that some people feel happy during the summer months whilst others look jolly during winters. Although, such behaviour is observed in small percentages of people, it is interesting to know why people show such reactions to seasons. Feeling of uneasiness or feeling blue is a normal condition if it doesn’t persist for longer periods. “Winter blues” can become a clinical condition known as, “seasonal affective disorder” if not treated properly.
The mood disorder, often witnessed in winter months, is known as “seasonal affect disorder”. In this disorder people, who have normal mental health throughout most of the year, experience depressive symptoms in the winter or, less frequently, in the summer. These disorders are usually seen in higher altitudes where sky remains overcast. It is seen in those areas in which the day length is shorter during winters. Youngsters are mostly affected by this disorder and more women get affected than men. The incidence of this disease is more in northern Europe like Scandinavian countries, North America as well as in Russia. Kashmir also comes under this category. In Kashmir most people do not know about this disorder and even doctors are unaware about it and they prescribe medication without knowing the actual cause.
Depression (dysthymia), tendency to oversleep, difficulty in concentrating, withdrawal from friends, family, and social activities are symptoms. Final indications are pessimism and lack of pleasure which characterise a person suffering from this disorder.
There are various theories regarding this. Research shows that SAD is related to lack of serotonin. It is also believed that it may be due to melatonin which is produced in dim light and darkness by the pineal gland. In any case the cause of SAD is related to the light or duration of light.
There are many different treatments including light therapy, medication, ionised-air administration, behavioural therapy and supplementation of the hormone melatonin. Light therapy often includes the use of a light box. It emits far more lumens than usual light. Anti-depressant drugs are also recommended for recovery of this disorder. Physical activity or being more active during winters is the best remedy against this mood disorder as physical activity helps to relieve pain, builds higher self esteem and enhances overall physical and mental well being.
If someone faces the seasonal mood disorder, then don’t wait. Just make an appointment, and consult your doctor.
—The author is a fellow of fast track young scientist at the Science and Engineering Research Board, DST. Feedback:uzssummer2@gmal.com