*Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a condition in which someone who is normally of stable mental health exhibits symptoms of depression during and around the winter season.
Including Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder which has its onset in the summer months, SAD affects 1.5 – 2% of Americans.
SAD is formally recognized as a sub-category of general depression, but I am concerned that it is a byproduct of the trend to diagnose every deviation from an arbitrary standard.
I do not mean to make light of individuals who genuinely suffer from mental illness. Still in modern America there are dozens perhaps hundreds of conditions in both physical and mental health that did not exist generations ago. SAD is a great example of this. In 1810 someone who generally did not enjoy winter simply did not enjoy winter; today the same person is said to be mentally defective. Furthermore they are told to buy powerful lamps to simulate the light of the sun, or administered prescription drugs.
Neurologists will claim that brains of individuals diagnosed with SAD function differently in winter, producing less of the chemicals that induce happiness; psychologists will claim that they exhibit signs of depression. I do not dispute either of these claims and I respect the prerogative of these professionals to study these phenomena. Nevertheless different brain waves do not a mental illness make. Nor does a bad day constitute depression. We accept that people have different personalities and that they react differently to stimuli. Shouldn’t we then also accept that some of these personalities and reactions, within the normal range of human behavior and experience even, will be ambivalent or negative?
This problem of overdiagnosis is a result of an American society that tells individuals they should buy product X or service Y and that will be their ticket to happiness. The problem arises when someone does not achieve happiness even after purchasing all that is available to them. If this is true, there must be something wrong with the individual that must be corrected.
There are a number of conditions, with erectile dysfunction perhaps the most prestigious, that are a part of the aging process that are being medicated. Ultimately we all cannot live as twenty year-olds. Likewise, we cannot all love winter. This is not mental illness. It is the variety of the human experience.
We must acknowledge that there is a difference between not wanting to eat, and wishing the sun set at 7:00 instead of 4:30. Only one of those is a problem.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War and he maintains a blog called This Seems Familiar. You can reach him at [email protected].