I cannot possibly be the only one with a dubious attitude toward matters of the “new” in health: new doctors, new drugs, and, especially, new diseases.
I mean, when I was in the emergency room yet again, I was highly displeased to have the doctor walk in, looking as if he might have just finished celebrating his bar mitzvah moments ago, before his mom drove him over to the ER to treat me. I sorely wanted some gravitas.
And while some people are quick to try the newest medicine on the scene, I have found that waiting it out for a few months never hurts. During such a waiting time, drug companies often discover astounding things – like that their drug causes seizures after long periods of taking it, or ingrown toenails, or thick layers of inner ear fungus. [This is as opposed to one of the meds I take, where people went ahead and died even before the drug made its way to approval in the States.]
My sense is that people tend to feel the same way about new disorders. Just think back to the durm and strang surrounding the DSM-5, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, cheerily referred to as the ‘psychiatric bible.’ When the committee added some new disorders (well, 15 to be exact), there was such a brouhaha you would have thought the field of psychiatry itself was imperiled.
And Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is certainly new as an illness, relatively speaking, officially earning recognition as a disorder in the 1980s.
Such recognition was due mainly to the work of one Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal and team at the National Institute of Mental Health.
Rosenthal’s interest was personal, as he had himself experienced bouts of lesser energy and decreased productivity during winters after he moved from his native South Africa to the northeastern United States.
His groundbreaking work theorizing that lesser amounts of light during the winter can cause depression was published in 1984 in JAMA Psychiatry, in an article entitled, “Seasonal Affective Disorder: A Description of the Syndrome and Preliminary Findings With Light Therapy,” making Rosenthal et al the first ever use the term. Additionally, he was the first to initiate the use of light therapy as a treatment for the disorder.
However, as with so much that is new in medicine, SAD exactly a big hit right off the bat. Naysayers abounded, but the disorder gradually made its way to the psychiatric big time.
By 1993, Rosenthal’s Winter Blues had been published, marketed as “an acclaimed guide [and] a veritable survival kit for anyone who suffers from the winter blues.”
Moreso, SAD has been included in every version of the DSM since the DSM-III-R (with the ‘R’–for real–standing for ‘Revised;’ translation from the Committee: ‘Ok, we didn’t get the DSM-IV out on time, but we’ve got to have something to show for our efforts–and to sell the masses at $40+ a pop.”). It not its own disorder; rather it is listed under mood disorders in the DSM-5, called a “seasonal specifier” under the ‘big name’ mood disorders–major depressive disorder, bipolar I or bipolar II.
Nevertheless, awareness of its seriousness — or that it even exists — is still limited. Take a look at the following infographic, and decide for yourself.