Where Is the Sun?

What  is SAD?Ice carving of polar bear on campus at sunset.

SAD is an acronym for Seasonal Affective Disorder, a form of depression with a pattern of onset and remission at specific times of the year. In most cases onset occurs as winter approaches and episodes subside in spring. While many people feel a loss of energy and even feelings of melancholy during the short, dark days of winter, persons with SAD experience these and other symptoms to such a degree that it interferes with their daily functioning.

How Can I Tell if I am Adversely Affected by Seasonal Changes?

Healthcare professionals may use any number of assessment tools to make a formal diagnosis of SAD, which is often characterized by depressed mood, increased sleep, increased appetite (especially for carbohydrates), weight gain, and decreased energy. The seasonal cycling of these symptoms is key to distinguishing SAD from other depressive disorders. Some people may experience some of the key symptoms of SAD without the accompanying loss of daily functioning; researchers have dubbed this condition subsyndromal SAD.

What Treatments are Available for SAD?

While psychotherapy and antidepressant medication may also be useful, much recent research shows that light therapy is effective in treating persons with SAD. A 1995 study (Gallin et.al.) found light therapy produced clinical remission in 75% of persons with SAD. Others suggest it may also be helpful in treating subsyndromal SAD. Light boxes, also known as, Happy Lights or SunBoxes may be available for purchase at retail stores in the Fairbanks area. Please consult a medical provider for any concerns or questions that you may have.  


  • American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association Press.
  • Gallin, P.F., Terman, M., Reme, C.E., Rafferty, B., Terman, J.S., Burde, R.M., (1995) Ophthalmologic examination of patients with seasonal affective disorder, before and after bright light therapy. American Journal of Ophthalmology, 119, 202-219.
  • Rosenthal, N.E., Sack, D.A., Gillin, J.C., Lewy, a.J., Goodwin, F.K., Davenport, Y. Mueller, P.S., Newsome, D.A., & Wehr, T.A. (1984). Seasonal affective disorder: A description of the syndrome and preliminary findings with light therapy. Archives of General Psychiatry, 41, 72-80.
  • Rosenthal, N.E., (1993). Winter Blues. New York: The Guilford Press
  • Society for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms. (1991). Questions and answers about light therapy [brochure]. Wilsonville, OR.
  • Terman, M. On the specific action and clinical domain of light treatment In R.W. Lam (Ed), Beyond seasonal affective disorder: light therapy for non SAD conditions. Washington, D.C. American Psychiatric Press.