Shining 'a light' on seasonal affective disorder, ways to cope

Mental health can be a real struggle, and for some, that is especially so in the winter. So let's shine some light on being S.A.D.

Do the dark winter months make you feel sad? Don’t worry if they do – you’re not alone. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also widely known as seasonal depression, is a common form of depression. At least 15 per cent of Canadians report experiencing SAD at some point throughout the winter months.

From when Daylight Savings Time ends in November until March, the days across Canada become unbearably short. Many Canadians may find themselves driving to work in the dark each morning, as well as driving home after work in the dark during these cold months.

What makes matters worse is that Canadian winters are not exactly known for their abundance of sunshine. More often than not, dreary clouds are obscuring the bright sky from us, as if holding the Sun hostage.

SEE ALSO: Don’t let rainy, dreary days get you down; try these mood-altering tricks

In fact, Dr. Michael Mak, a psychiatrist and sleep specialist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) says that it’s the lack of light that causes people to experience SAD symptoms.

“They might have difficulties enjoying things that they like usually; they might have a lower level of energy during the daytime, their concentration might be impaired, and there may be changes in their appetite,” he explains.

Many studies over the years have shown and discussed how sunlight has a direct effect on people’s mental health.

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“We know that light exposure is actually good for sleep and our mood,” Dr. Mak says. “If you expose yourself to light that's a minimum of 10,000 lux for half an hour daily, that is a treatment for seasonal affective disorder and, believe it or not, a treatment for straight depression, also.”

There are a variety of lamps on the market that claim to provide this ‘light therapy’ for people who wish to combat SAD, or even just the winter blues.

Victoria - IR1391 - light therapy to combat S.A.D.

Dr. Mak holds up an example of a 'light therapy' lamp, which can be an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder (The Weather Network)

Dr. Mak also makes it clear that this doesn’t mean you need to stare directly into these lamps for them to work; you just need to have them within five feet of you.

RELATED: How nature can help with Seasonal Affective Disorder

However, this isn’t a cure-all for depression by any means, just a way to combat the symptoms.

“If you find that your depression symptoms are affecting your ability to function, whether it's your personal life or your professional life, that's going to be that time you ask your family doctor for a referral to a psychiatrist,” he suggests.

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Remember that it’s okay to have mental health struggles in the winter and any other time of year. When the sky stays dark for too long, sometimes all you need to do is turn on a light.

WATCH | Toronto's "SAM" Lamp designed to combat SAD

Contains files from Victoria Fenn Alvarado, journalist at The Weather Network.