Seasonal depression prevalent in Portland, according to OHSU pro - KPTV - FOX 12

Seasonal depression prevalent in Portland, according to OHSU professor

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It seems the dark and dreary days of winter are here once again in Portland. Something that can lead to full blown depression for people experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.  

A change in the season brings a change in the customers at Sunlan Lighting in north Portland.

"People need to feel positive they need to feel the sunshine," said Sunlan Lighting owner Kay Newell. 

Newell says customers are now all looking for so called "happy lights." 

"We have some light bulbs like halogen which reflect early morning sunshine, it's bright, it's giddy up and go, it's hey the day is beautiful and let's do this," said Newell. 

Newell says certain lights are thought to be a form of therapy to combat the winter blues known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. 

"I've had a young lady coming in for over 20 years who says she needs these lights. I have a school teacher who used to recognize the students who suffer from SAD and she would send students to me to get the lights so they could function," said Newell. 

OHSU Professor of Psychiatry Dr. Alfred Lewy says seasonal depression is real and prevalent in the Portland metro area.

"I agreed to come to OHSU in 1980 and we had not quite treated first person with winter depression then. So, it was luck that brought me here and this turns out to be a mecca for studying SAD," said Dr. Alfred Lewy. 

Lewy tells FOX 12, SAD is characterized by the usual symptoms of depression like sadness and hopelessness coupled with an increased craving for carbs. He believes five percent of the population in the Portland metro area is severely affected by the disorder and another 15 percent is moderately affected.  

"It's not because of the clouds or the rain, it's because of the latitude we live at, 45 degrees" said Lewy. "The days are short in the winter and it's not having the sun in the morning that's what triggers it. We need to wake up in sunlight and in the winter solstice that's very hard to do, unless you're able to sleep late."

Lewy recommends the use of an accredited light box as an effective treatment for his patients.  

"It's a white florescent light, it doesn't have much ultra-violent, there's a plexiglass diffuser, that's a safe type of light," Lewy said. 

Lewy tells FOX 12 those with extreme cases of SAD will sit in front a light box at a safe distance from their eyes for 1-2 hours a day before getting their symptoms under control. Then gradually, they'll reduce that time to some 30 minutes.    

"We'll tell them to keep their eyes open and look at the box a couple times a minute for a few seconds," said Lewy. 

Lewy is now also studying the use of melatonin for managing symptoms of SAD as well.     

"We're experimenting with melatonin in low doses that don't make you sleepy, lower doses than commonly sold in stores" said Lewy. "Melatonin taken in afternoon can mimic the effect of morning light. Both the light box and the melatonin work because they shift the body clock earlier."

It's all about tricking a body's internal clock into believing the sun has risen.

If you think you might be experiencing SAD and are looking for advice about treatment visit:

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