The Double Whammy of Seasonal Affective Disorder in a Season of Covid

Although the symptoms of SAD normally disappear completely every summer, Dr. Rohan said, “in the summer of 2020 we didn’t see a full remission in our patients. With such big stresses going on, they are overriding the seasonal pattern.”

Dr. Rohan fears that the anxiety and stress provoked by the pandemic will increase the risk and severity of winter depression for everyone. “It’s possible that those with subclinical SAD will become clinical,” she said. “People will be limited in what they can do to stay well even if they normally have good coping resources.”

However, Dr. Rosenthal said, “Just understanding the issues can give people a blueprint for handling them more effectively.” Most helpful for people with SAD, he said, is exposure to sunlight or its artificial equivalent for 20 to 30 minutes every morning. The standard amount of light needed is 10,000 lux. Sitting under a commercial light box at least one-foot square will do the job. Also helpful is using a dawn simulator in the bedroom or a light set on a timer to turn on 10 or 20 minutes before you get up.

LIGHT THERAPY Wirecutter, a New York Times company, reviews light boxes here.

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