What is Seasonal Affective Disorder/Winter Depression?

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A wistful feeling comes over us in late autumn, as the last remaining leaves drop, morning frosts cover the ground, and the sun sets earlier each day. Hot cider and the warmth of a favorite old coat may be all you need to face the coming winter with good cheer, but for many people, fall melancholy deepens to winter depression.

Winter Lam, MD, researcher at the University of British Columbia, Canada, and others are studying the role of antidepressants like Paxil and Prozac work for some seasonal affective disorder sufferers. But Lewy says he prefers light therapy to antidepressants, which he says “are probably more of a Band-Aid,” because they’re not specific to winter depression.

Terman has been testing yet another new way to treat seasonal affective disorder. This therapy involves aiming a stream of negatively charged ions at a person sleeping on a special conductive bed sheet. The discovery that high-density negative ions (not the same ions produced by home air filters) helped people with seasonal affective disorder came accidentally from a previous study. A second study, which will end later this year, has also found a beneficial effect.

The air is full of negative ions in springtime, and not in the winter. But that doesn’t explain how ion therapy works. “We don’t yet have an answer to that question,” Terman says; nevertheless, “We’re now convinced that it’s real.”