How to treat seasonal affective disorder

March 31, 2014|By Tracy Swartz, @tracyswartz | RedEye

Chicagoans who think they may have seasonal affective disorder, a mood change tied to weather, should seek a physician. Reduced sunlight may increase melatonin—the hormone that aids sleep—making you feel sleepy, and decrease serotonin, a chemical that affects mood.

Experts say this depression, which affects more than 10 million Americans each year, may be treated with light therapy, medication or psychotherapy.

>> Light therapy

Fifteen minutes of light therapy in the morning during the fall and winter may help Chicagoans with seasonal affective disorder, said Dr. Pedro Dago, who specializes in depression and bipolar disorder at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Light therapy machines can be purchased online.

A $79.99 model from the Sharper Image is portable and provides "blue artificial sunlight without harmful UV rays." 

For $194.98, Office Depot sells the Day-Light Classic Bright Light Therapy System, which "mimics outdoor light." It comes with adjustable legs and a built-in tilt-back stand but can also fit in luggage.

Some clinics, such as Advanced Physical Medicine Clinics in Bucktown and on the South Side, also offer light therapy treatments.

>> Medication

When it comes to prescribing medication to treat the depression, "the literature is pretty limited," Dago said. "It's not like we have dozens and dozens of studies showing efficacy." Dago said antidepressants like Wellbutrin may be recommended.

>> Psychotherapy

Therapy, including cognitive behavior therapy, which involves exploring patterns that lead to destructive actions, may help with seasonal affective disorder.

>> Other treatment options

Northwestern Memorial Hospital suggests exercising, eating a balanced diet, managing stress and meditating.

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