Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder

By Norman E. Rosenthal | Go to book overview

FIFTEEN

SAD Through the Ages

The relationship between depression and the seasons was first observed over two thousand years ago by Hippocrates, who noted, “It is chiefly the changes of the seasons which produce diseases.” Aretaeus, in the second century A.D., recommended that “lethargics are to be laid in the light and exposed to the rays of the sun, for the disease is gloom.” Yet it is only since the late twentieth century that seasonal depression has entered the diagnostic manual of psychiatric diseases and light therapy has been seriously considered as a treatment for winter depression. Why did it take medical science so long to rediscover the wisdom of the ancients? The elements needed to make this discovery—our powers of observation, the charting of mood changes over time, and bright light—have been available for ages. What brought about the rediscovery was not some technological breakthrough, as in so many other areas of medicine, but advances in our understanding of psychiatric diseases and our changing concepts of time.

The following are three historical cases of SAD, described over a span of some three centuries. Clinically, they have certain distinct resemblances to one another and to modern-day descriptions of SAD. One thing that I find fascinating about these cases is how they illustrate the different ways in which the physicians of various eras conceptualized SAD and what that can teach us about the changing concepts

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