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Feeling SAD? Wet weather may be the reason

By Meryl Stebel

This year's rainy season is expected to stretch through the next two weeks according to weather forecasters, continuing March's wet weather pattern into April.

People at Mills and around the Bay Area are noticing the effects of this record-breaking stretch of bad weather on their mood.

"I'm just getting sick of it," said recent Mills alumna Erika Rickard. "It makes me feel lazy and just plain down."

Senior Nuria Gomez, a native of Seattle, Wash., is used to wet weather. However, she also said that the climate can take a toll on her mood. "I didn't really notice until I came here that I was kind of depressed when I was in Seattle as opposed to living in a sunnier climate," she said. "I'm definitely a different person when I go back home to 'the grey' now," added Gomez.

One explanation for experiences like these is Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. SAD is caused by a biochemical imbalance due to the shortening of daylight hours or lack of sunlight, according to the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association. Common symptoms include depression, lethargy, sleep problems and anxiety in the beginning and end of the winter months.

People who suffer from SAD often have very mild symptoms. Others, like "Myra," who asked to remain anonymous, have very different experiences. "I got to the stage where I didn't care if I lived or died," said Myra on the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association's (SADA's) online message board.

Dr. Norman Rosenthal, a pioneer in SAD research, has estimated that the prevalence of SAD in the adult U.S. population is between 1.4 percent in places such as Florida compared to 9.7 percent in places such as New Hampshire. Up to 15 percent of people living in Scandinavian countries are believed to have SAD.

However, physicians note that SAD is generally a symptom of depression, and that it rarely occurs spontaneously, according to WebMD. Changes in mood or activity level that accompany changes in the weather are not necessarily indicative of SAD because people with SAD typically display symptoms of another mood disorder throughout the year, such as depression, anxiety or multiple personality disorder.

"There's a definite grey area between people who have SAD and the people who are impervious to the weather," said Gomez.

Rickard, who is from the dry desert city of Tucson, Ariz., said she falls into this grey area. "I'm mostly just shocked every day when I have to function in the rain. There's maybe not so much a physiological difference with me," she said.

Gomez agrees. "If the sun comes out, I'm instantly in a better mood," she said. "I don't think that distinction can be made with someone who has SAD."

For SAD sufferers and non-sufferers alike, light therapy has been shown to be effective in improving mood. Patients are exposed to a light at least 10 times the intensity of ordinary indoor lighting for up to four hours a day.

"Val," who also uses the SADA message board, has never been diagnosed with SAD even though she has many of it's symptoms. She has been using light therapy for years without the prescription of her doctor. "For the first time in years I am able to stay awake in the evening," she said in a post.

Most people do not have experiences like Val and Myra, but their experiences are no less real. A study by the University of Michigan shows a direct link between weather and mood, proving that warm weather maintains mood and can even boost it after approximately 30 minutes.

For some, rainy weather has an opposite effect on their mood. Senior Gaelen Nelson said that bad weather actually improves her mood. "I just love it – it makes me feel close to other people. I get sick of it sometimes, but I haven't yet this year," she said.