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Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder Takes a Page from Chanukah

I recently learned that a relative has Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD for short. Like others effected by SAD, this relative is profoundly changed as the seasons change. Her moods, her energy, and her concentration are dampened as the weather darkens. I laughed as I heard this, sharing that I prefer it out here in California because the the days of overcast skies are fewer and farther between.

Here comes the New York Times (12/18/07) article, Brought on by Darkness, Disorder Needs Light (By RICHARD A. FRIEDMAN, M.D.), which argues that More than winter blahs, seasonal depression is recognized and treatable.
The article notes that: Researchers have noted a similarity between SAD symptoms and seasonal changes in other mammals, particularly those that sensibly pass the dark winter hibernating in a warm hole. Animals have brain circuits that sense day length and control the timing of seasonal behavior. Do humans do the same? In 2001, Dr. Thomas A. Wehr and Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, psychiatrists at the National Institute of Mental Health, ran an intriguing experiment. They studied two patient groups for 24 hours in winter and summer, one group with seasonal depression and one without. A major biological signal tracking seasonal sunlight changes is melatonin, a brain chemical turned on by darkness and off by light. Dr. Wehr and Dr. Rosenthal found that the patients with seasonal depression had a longer duration of nocturnal melatonin secretion in the winter than in the summer, just as with other mammals with seasonal behavior.

So what do they suggest? Bright lights. Here’s what’s fascinating to me: We Jews figured that out a long time ago. At the darkest times of the year, the winter solistice, Jews celebrate Chanukah. Our rabbis, in their brilliance, told us that in the dark darkness, we Jews should light lights, increasing the lights evening by evening. Where darkness and overcast skies bring depression, Chanukah brings hope. Score one for the rabbis!

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