Seasonal Affective Disorder: A Clear Link Between the Outside and the Inside of the Brain

Seasonal Affective Disorder: A Clear Link Between the Outside and the Inside of the Brain

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Seasonal Affective Disorder: A Clear Link Between the Outside and the Inside of the Brain

And God said, Let there be light; And there was light.
And God saw that the light was good;
And God separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.
And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
(Genesis 1:3-5) (1)

The sun has been an endless source of inspiration, both physical and spiritual, throughout the ages. For its light, warmth, and the essential role it has played in the maintenance of the fragile balance of life on earth, the sun has been honored and celebrated in most of the world's religions. While the regeneration of light is constant, the relative length of time between the rising and setting of the sun is affected by the changing of the seasons. Hippocrates postulated centuries ago that these changing patterns of light and dark might cause mood changes (9). Seasonal downward mood changes of late fall and winter have been the subject of many sorrowful turn-of-the-century poems of lost love and empty souls. For some, however, “the relationship between darkness and despair is more than metaphoric (6).

It is only recently that the distinct neurological effects associated with the shortening of the day in winter have been more clearly understood. One interesting example of mood change associated with seasonal change is Seasonal Affective Disorder. While Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) is interesting in itself as a long-suffered from but only recently labeled illness, it is perhaps most interesting as an illustrative example of the complex interplay between neurological processes and the environment. The study of Seasonal Affective Disorder provides fasci...

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...ide? If healing comes from a pill, a shot, a box of light, does that make the illness real? Although my father would probably have steam coming out of his ears by this point in reading this paper, the lesson here is not in whether or not Seasonal Affective Disorder treatment should be covered by health insurance. Instead, it should be understood within the larger framework of how minds interact with the environment. Seasonal mood change is a clear and undeniable example of what happens when something goes wrong in the exchange of information from the outside to the inside. By examining seasonal mood change, the string linking the environment, circadian rhythms, the brain and behavior is a little tighter.

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