What You Need to Know About Seasonal Depression

Here are the SADD facts.

When the clocks turn back in early November, the slow creep of winter darkness begins, and with it, the onset of seasonal affective disorder or seasonal depression. As the daylight hours get shorter and grayer, the 10 million Americans who are affected by the disorder each year begin to feel sluggish, fatigued and depressed. They often begin eating and sleeping more and going outside less.

“People hibernate socially,” says Christine Larson, professor of psychology at UW-Milwaukee. “They become withdrawn, have trouble concentrating and lose interest in things they normally enjoy.”

Women are four times more likely to suffer from the disorder then men. And Wisconsinites have been dealt a pretty bad hand: The farther north you live, the fewer hours of daylight you have in winter, and the more likely you are to be affected. Our latitude has a seasonal depression rate of about 7% to 9%, but if you live in Florida, which enjoys about 1.5 more hours of daylight on the winter solstice than Wisconsin, the rate drops to about 1%, Larson says.

Since the symptoms are essentially those of depression, they can be treated similarly with psychotherapy, medication and other effective strategies, such as increased exercise. But seasonal affective disorder also has one unique form of treatment: light therapy.

Lightboxes offer a simple form of light therapy for home use. They put out 10,000 lux of bright white light – about 20 times brighter than average indoor lighting – and protect users from ultraviolet rays. It’s simple to use: Sit about 2 feet in front of the box, and bask in the glow for a half-hour every morning to make up for the bright light the winter has robbed us of. While basking, you can read, work on your computer and generally carry on as usual.

These devices have come down in size and price in recent years, with models the size of an iPad fetching well under $100.

With spring still far away, and the days short and dark, you might find solace in the words of French writer Albert Camus, who wrote, “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”

This Story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s 2020 Winter Playbook

Find the issue on newsstands or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

Be the first to get every new issue. Subscribe.



Archer is the managing editor at Milwaukee Magazine. Some say he is a great warrior and prophet, a man of boundless sight in a world gone blind, a denizen of truth and goodness, a beacon of hope shining bright in this dark world. Others say he smells like cheese.