Past Event

Here comes the sun?

Café Society will meet at Ron’s Barber Shop  on Friday, March 12.

“Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
and I say it’s all right” – The Beatles

In the early 1980s, the term Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) was coined in the United States by South African psychiatrist, Norman Rosenthal. After moving to New York in mid-winter, Dr. Rosenthal experienced alarming symptoms and conducted a series of tests at the National Institute of Mental Health. He defined SAD as a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health (throughout most of the year) experience depressive symptoms in the winter due to lack of light.

Symptoms of SAD include difficulty waking up in the morning, tendency to oversleep and overeat, as well as a particular craving for carbohydrates, which can lead to weight gain. Other symptoms include lack of energy, difficulty concentrating or completing tasks, and withdrawal from friends, family, and social activities. These symptoms combine to foster the depression, pessimism, and lack of pleasure that characterize a person suffering from SAD.

The National Mental Health Association provides us with a few facts: 

  • A million people suffer from SAD every winter between September and April.
  • The “Winter Blues” may be a milder form of SAD and affect twice as many people.
  • Three out of four SAD sufferers are women.
  • The main onset of SAD occurs between the ages of 18 and 30.
  • SAD occurs in both the northern and southern hemispheres, though, oddly, it is rarely seen in those living within 30 degrees latitude of the equator.
  • The severity of the disorder depends on both a person’s vulnerability to light variance and his or her geographical location.

Other than moving to Arizona, how can SAD be treated? Some doctors recommend light therapy, medication, ionized-air administration, counseling, and sometimes supplementation of the hormone melatonin. Many, who have mild forms of SAD, find that healthy doses of Vitamin D seem to help.

Some companies are even cashing in on an effort to combat SAD by marketing wellness products. Lush, an all-natural handmade cosmetics company, offers a product called “The Comforter Bubble Bar”. Its website description: “After a chilly walk home in the snow, wrap yourself up in The Comforter Bubble Bar ($8.75). Formulated with bergamot, the uplifting essential oil calms nerves and is recommended for people suffering from S.A.D. – or those with regular winter blues. “

Some argue whether SAD is an actual disease. Should employers be required to accommodate employees who suffer from SAD? The Chicago Tribune reports, “Pointing to a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against the disabled, some SAD sufferers say they are entitled to schedule changes, access to windows and other modifications. Recent legal rulings are prompting human resources experts to warn about the need to take the depression seriously.”

Columnist Ariel Leve isn’t buying it. She writes a snarky reply to suffers of SAD appearing in The Daily Beast, “Whenever I hear someone say that they suffer from seasonal affective disorder, I immediately discount them as qualified sufferers. If you’re going to suffer from something and call it a disorder, it should at least have the potential for dire consequences. A kidney failing. Or being unable to leave the house for 30 years. What are SAD sufferers at risk of? Oversleeping. Craving carbohydrates. Oh, and negative thoughts.”

Despite the debate, SAD is currently protected under disability law. Employers are now legally bound to accommodate employees who suffer from the disease. This is thanks in part to an October decision by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granting a Chicago-area teacher the right to pursue an employment discrimination lawsuit against her former employer. The teacher claimed after repeatedly providing the school’s administration with documented proof of SAD, they refused to provide her with a classroom with natural light, thus causing her mental health to deteriorate.

Water cooler talk about the weather is often jokingly considered idle chat. But in Chicago and other places with minimal days of sunshine, conversation about the weather can mean much more. Michael Young, an associate professor at the Institute of Psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology said, “Most people experience gloominess in winter, but as many as 10 percent of Chicago-area residents have enough psychological and biological symptoms to be diagnosed with SAD.”

Should employees who sufferer from SAD be protected under the same rights as those who are disabled?
Why or why not? How can American culture (including employers) support a climate of positive mental health? In what ways are we not promoting wellness? How can employment law better protect the rights of those suffering from mental illness? With the economy woes, and health-care crisis at an all time high, what are some healthy ways for the average American to combat depressive symptoms?

Suggested Resources

For more information, call 312.422.5580. 

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