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Seasonal affective disorder is more than the winter blues

Published: Friday, Feb. 15, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Feb. 18, 2013 5:16 p.m. CDT
(Sarah Nader – snader@shawmedia.com)
Justin Stone, 21, of Lake in the Hills poses for a portrait with his light-therapy box in his home Feb. 6. Stone said he always had withdrawn from his friends during the winter, and overall felt less energetic and motivated. He said doctors told him in 2011 he likely had seasonal affective disorder.

The Northwest Herald on Friday published this story about seasonal affective disorder, a mood disorder that can cause depression during the winter months.

As part of the story, we interviewed Justin Stone of Lake in the Hills. Stone reached out to us after seeing a post on the Northwest Herald's Facebook page in which we sought local residents who suffer from SAD.

Stone told our reporter that he suffered from SAD, and agreed to be interviewed and photographed. Friday's story included a photograph of Stone in his home with a light therapy box he said he used as part of his treatment, as well as direct quotations from him about his supposed ailment.

Over the weekend, Stone posted on his Facebook page that he had "conned" the Northwest Herald into believing his story. We called Stone on Monday after learning of his Facebook posts. He initially still claimed to suffer from SAD, but then admitted that he made his story up, saying it was "kind of a joke and it kind of went too far." He later apologized.

Stone deceived us, but we didn't do enough to verify his story. We didn't confirm his story with a doctor or members of his family. We took him at his word, and because of that we published a story with inaccurate information. For that, we apologize to our readers.

The Northwest Herald has a great responsibility to verify information before we publish. We fell short of that in this instance. We will learn from this. We are reinforcing our policies on source verification. We will do better.

We do not want our failure to verify Stone's claim to detract from the reason we did the story on seasonal affective disorder, however. In our published story, we also talked to licensed professionals who explained the very real effects of SAD. The ailment is real, and many people suffer from it during the long winter months in northern Illinois.

The story idea and much of our reporting on it was legitimate. But it does not excuse our mistake.

– Dan McCaleb, Northwest Herald editor

LAKE IN THE HILLS – For years, Justin Stone dreaded the onset of winter for the way it affected his mood.

When winter hit, Stone would find himself withdrawing to his room, lethargic and lacking the desire to join his friends.

“It was almost like I was unmotivated to do anything,” the 21-year-old from Lake in the Hills said. “I just didn’t care.”

Last winter, Stone finally decided to see a doctor, who told him he suffers from seasonal affective disorder.

Commonly known as SAD, it is a mood disorder that can cause depression during the winter months. Many experts believe it is a result of depleted levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, and melatonin, a hormone. Each is affected by a lack of light.

“It’s not understood that it’s a neurochemical disorder,” said Dr. Douglas Neal, a clinical psychologist who practices in Crystal Lake. “Some people think you should just push through it.”

Seasonal affective disorder can be tough to diagnose because many people get the “winter blues.”

“I call it the rule of ‘too,’ “ said Paula Briedis, a licensed clinical professional counselor with Samaritan Counseling. “If it’s happening too often, if it’s too intense, and if it lasts too long, that’s a problem.”

The depression generally hits toward the end of fall and can present symptoms such as hopelessness, increased sleep, less energy and a loss of interest in activities the individual would normally enjoy.

Seasonal affective disorder also can cause increased appetite – a rare contrast to nonseasonal depression, research shows.

Doctors generally treat the disorder as they would other forms of depression, using talk therapy or prescribing antidepressant medication.

But they also recommend light-box therapy. Patients sit in front of therapeutic light boxes for 15 minutes to an hour a day. The light from the boxes, which range from $70 to several hundred dollars, is said to raise levels of serotonin and melatonin, thus lifting a patient’s mood.

But Neal warns that the boxes – and over-the-counter supplements said to help the body produce serotonin – work better for mild cases of seasonal affective disorder.

After using a light box without much success, Stone eventually was prescribed the antidepressant Zoloft, which he takes from the end of fall through early spring.

“The medicine has helped,” he said. “You don’t feel the same as the summer, where it’s nice outside. But it helps.”

There is one other treatment that Shira Greenfield, clinical manager of Outpatient Behavioral Health at Centegra Health System, said is frequently sought by longtime sufferers.

“In my experience, people who have a really hard time with it move,” Greenfield said.

That remedy isn’t lost on Stone. He said he’s saving up money to move to California.

Seasonal affective disorder

It’s more common in:

• Women

• Individuals with family members who have it and nonseasonal depression

• Adults (On average, the first episode of seasonal affective disorder occurs at age 23.)

• individuals who live far from the equator

Source: Mayo Clinic

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