SAD and Schizophrenia
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INTRO: Winter can be a hard time for people in the north. The darkness winter brings can cause Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD--a common form of depression characterized by a lack of energy, sleepiness, and overeating. As Arctic Science Journeys producer Doug Schneider reports in the last of a two-part series, people with the much more serious mental disorder, schizophrenia, can be especially hard hit by SAD.
STORY: As a mental health worker in Alaska, Julie Doorack noticed that people with schizophrenia seemed to commit suicide more often in the winter.
DOORACK: "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."
Doorack wondered if the suicides might be linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD--a usually treatable form of wintertime depression that affects some ten million Americans each year. For her master's degree at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Doorack studied the rate at which people with schizophrenia also suffered the effects of SAD. Her findings were startling.
DOORACK: "The most important finding is that people with schizophrenia have a full-blown Seasonal Affective Disorder rate three times higher. And so it's a very important problem to address. Thirty percent of the people I interviewed said they can't get out of bed, can't interact with people, that kind of Seasonal Affective Disorder."
By itself, SAD is considered to be a relatively mild form of depression, caused by decreased amounts of light during winter. Symptoms include a lack of energy and motivation, sleepiness, and a tendency to overeat. For most people, the disorder is easily cured with increased exposure to light. But Doorack says it's important that health care workers be aware of the increased risks patients with schizophrenia face.
DOORACK: "What we're talking about here are different constructs, in psychiatric terms. The construct of schizophrenia is one disorder, and the concept of Seasonal Affective Disorder is another discrete disorder. The question is, aren't they kind of the same and we're just calling them something different. And so how I controlled for that was I interviewed people on the level of their negative symptoms for schizophrenia. Things like the positive symptoms, like hearing voices and having delusions, are pretty clearly schizophrenia. But the other symptoms, the increase in social withdrawal, the lack of energy and interest in other people, well, those sure sound a lot like Seasonal Affective Disorder."
Doorack examined 27 people with schizophrenia in Fairbanks and Anchorage during the winter of 1998. For her Ph.D., she says she'd like to follow such patients into the summer to see if their SAD symptoms disappear as more sunlight comes to the far north.
OUTRO: If you'd like more information about SAD or schizophrenia, contact the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. This is Arctic Science Journeys, a production of the Alaska Sea Grant Program and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I'm Doug Schneider.
Our thanks to the following individuals for their help in the preparation of this script:
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
If you'd like more information about schizophrenia or SAD, check out these websites:
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, http://www.nami.org/
Schizophrenia Center, http://www.schizophrenia.com/
National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, http://www.narsad.org/
Seasonal Affective Disorder, http://athealth.com/Practitioner/Newsletter/FPN_3_2.html
Order "Winter Blues" on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN%3D1572303956/athealthincA/102-8481512-0428826
Arctic Science Journeys is a radio service highlighting science, culture, and the environment of the circumpolar north. Produced by the Alaska Sea Grant College Program and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Alaska Sea Grant Homepage
The URL for this page is http://seagrant.uaf.edu/news/99ASJ/12.07.99_SAD-Schiz.html