As a native Ohioan, I have grown accustomed to the trials and tribulations of Daylight Savings time. There already seem to be too few hours in the day, and when you add the sun setting between 4:30pm and 5:30pm for three months out of the year, minimum, it can really take a toll on you mentally and emotionally. Most people refer to this winter funk as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. According to the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatry, what we all commonly know as SAD is actually a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern. In real talk, this means an individual has a history of depressive episodes with an onset as a specific time of year and episodes occurring more frequently and/or for a longer duration, during specific seasons. So the question is then, with our dark Ohio winters how do we cope?
Research indicates that while medication and counseling are incredibly useful for managing depression and mood disturbances, in the case of SAD, light therapy is a highly effective addition to traditional treatment. For some individuals who experience milder symptoms, light therapy may be sufficient. Individuals should consult with a mental health professional for more information. Light boxes are designed to be safe and effective, but they aren't approved or regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for SAD treatment. You do not need a prescription to purchase a light box, and they are often not covered by insurance.
How light boxes work
A light therapy box mimics outdoor light to create a chemical change in the brain that lifts your mood and eases other symptoms of SAD. For light boxes to be beneficial, they must provide an exposure to 10,000 lux of light and emit as little UV light as possible. Their effects are optimal when they are used within the first hour of waking up in the morning for about 20 to 30 minutes. The individual should sit about 16 to 24 inches from the light with eyes open, but not looking directly at the light. Make sure to purchase a light box specifically designed for treating SAD such as some of the ones listed here.
If the gloomy darkness of Ohio winters has got you down, try some light therapy and see if it can help. The OSU EAP is always here also to help guide you and support you in any way you may need. Please contact us if you are having a hard time managing your mood this season at EAP@osumc.edu or toll free at 800-678-6265.