Schizophrenia and Seasonal Affective Disorder

Being a rare affliction itself, seasonal affective disorder is often overlooked when it comes to people dealing with schizophrenia due to depression often already being experienced.  But research has shown that not only are schizophrenia sufferers more susceptible to the extremes of SAD symptoms, but the rate of being diagnosed with the disorder itself is a full three times higher.  Understanding the subtle differences between standard major depression and seasonal depression can help individuals be more aware of their own internal state and safeguard against some of the dangers associated with this illness.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Summary

Much like the more typical depression experienced, seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, includes symptoms such as lethargy, sleepiness, low motivation, a negative outlook on life, sadness, overeating, and other low-energy related problems.  The difference is that for people suffering with schizophrenia and depression, these symptoms may not appear for the first time, but since they are already present they can become far more pronounced.

SAD is a cyclical depression that arrives usually with the onset of winter, although there is research that suggests that it can occur in any season.  It is thought to be triggered by shorter days, cloudier weather, and as a result a general decrease in exposure to sunlight.  This lower light exposure can upset homeostasis causing the body to expend more energy in maintaining a normalized body temperature, and can also affect hormone regulation and neurochemical balances.

Schizophrenia Specific Problems

As stated, the general intensity of depression symptoms can become much more acute for schizophrenics during the winter months.  Julie Doorack, a mental health specialist in Alaska, a state with frequently snow-filled skies and shorter days, has noted many peculiar things throughout her career which has inspired her research into the interaction between SAD and schizophrenia.

“As far as I’m aware there’s no research that’s really looked closely at the increase in suicide among people with schizophrenia in the winter. But just anecdotally, I worked for two years in Bethel in the mental health system and now for about 2 1/2 years in Fairbanks. And I’ve personally seen it. And so even if it is just one person, I think it’s imperative to really look into it because Seasonal Affective Disorder can be prevented.” – Julie Doorack.  Source.

Doorack reports in her findings that people with schizophrenia suffer from SAD at a rate three times higher than the general population, and the intensity often can result in the taking of one’s own life.  Because the problem is so easily solved, its important that awareness of this problem is in the general knowledge of mental health workers since the consequences can be drastic and irreversible.

An increased exposure to specific wavelengths of light that mimic natural sunlight can solve this problem.  Following the tested methods of light therapy, more information here, a person can easily alleviate these symptoms in the comfort of their own home with accessible light bulbs specifically designed for this purpose.  Many companies have taken notice and are providing bulbs of this variety, such as LEDHut and Phillips.

Please be aware of this possibility.  Notice if your loved ones or yourself experience an increase in depression and melancholy during the darker months of the year.  If so, know the solution is available and simple to achieve in your own home.  Don’t suffer needlessly.