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See Inside October 2005

Lighten Up

Seasonal affective disorder—the winter blues—can be lifted with bright light, as long as treatment is timed properly


Autumn. Mornings are dark. Dusk comes dishearteningly early. You are feeling more tired, melancholy. The rapidly disappearing daylight seems almost to drag away part of your spirit with it. Should this dip in humor worry you? Not really--youll adjust. Unless you are prone to seasonal affective disorder. For the several million Americans who succumb, the darker half of the year brings a heavy veil of sadness. They become depressed, listless, chronically fatigued, and their mood does not rebound until March, when the daylight extends to early evening.

In general, the farther north one lives on the globe the more common seasonal depression becomes. Below the 30th parallel, which links Jacksonville, Fla., to Houston and the Baja Peninsula south of San Diego, the winter blues are virtually unknown. In sunny Florida, just 1 percent of the population suffers from seasonal affective disorder, appropriately known as SAD, but in New York State the rate is 5 percent. In Alaska, one out of every 10 residents experiences winter mood problems.

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