A Publication of WTVP

For many Americans, the winter season signals the loss of sunlight and the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD for short. Misunderstood by many people, SAD is a clinical disorder characterized by moderate depression, pronounced fatigue, lethargy and a general sense of heaviness. These symptoms usually begin somewhere around October and begin to dissipate in late March or April. The cause is simply the lack of sunlight.

If you suffer from these wintertime blues, you are not alone. It is estimated that there are over 34 million SAD sufferers in America today, and of those who suffer from it, women outnumber men four to one. Research tends to imply that two percent of our population suffers with severe SAD and about 10 percent suffer from moderate to mild symptoms of the disorder. Across the world, incidences increase with greater distance from the equator.

Not all sufferers have identical symptoms, however. All sufferers report mild to severe depression, but some note excessive eating and weight gain as well. Some report an increase in the craving of carbohydrates in their diets, while others describe fatigue, which tends to be worse in the afternoon. Some sufferers note feeling hopeless and sad, while others report an increase in crying or excessive sleeping and napping.

There are those who doubt the seriousness of Seasonal Affective Disorder, believing it to be a new catchphrase for those who are lazy or inactive during the winter months. However, researcher Dr. Alfred Lewy first discovered depressive symptoms during the fall and winter in 1845. His discoveries were brought to light (sorry for the pun), in the mid-1980s, when it was discovered that bright light released melatonin in the body, relieving the symptoms of depression. Typically, depression or the winter blues is lowered when bright light enters the eyes.

It is helpful to decide if you are feeling down because of Seasonal Affective Disorder or if there are other reasons for your depression. The cyclical nature of SAD is its easiest identifier. Do you usually feel happier and more upbeat in the summer? Do you start feeling gloomy as fall arrives, dreading the coming winter? Does your energy level drop significantly as the thermometer falls? Finally, does your weight go up regularly every winter, only to then drop in the spring and summer? If you answer yes to these questions, there is a very good chance that you have SAD.

There are some simple techniques which can minimize the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder:

Hopefully these suggestions will be helpful to those of you who suffer from SAD. I’ve always thought it might be helpful for the City of Peoria to purchase a giant spotlight that could be shown on our city during the day. Surely the bright light would decrease many sufferers’ symptoms and relieve those winter blues. Perhaps I’ll call the mayor and see what he has to say about this idea. But in the meantime, maybe I should just go outside for a while and take my dog for a walk in the sunlight! TPW

Dr. Miller is the founder and director of Peoria’s Joy Miller & Associates. She is an internationally-known licensed psychotherapist, professional trainer and author. A part-time instructor at Bradley University, she has been professionally involved in the mental health field for 25 years. For more information on mental health visit