By: Francis P. Koster, Ed.D.

When was the last time all the clocks in your house said exactly the same time? Does the oven clock and the bedroom alarm agree? Is your computer agreeing with the Cable Box? Your car clock with the kids alarm?

If not, bad things begin to happen...kids miss the school bus, the crock pot does not start on time and dinner is late, the sprinkler system waters in the middle of the afternoon so the water evaporates before it helps the lawn...things go wacky.

Our bodies also have many individual "clocks". If these clocks don't all tell the same time, parts of our bodies do not coordinate well with others - our internal gears grind. These clocks are kept on the same time by the magic of sunlight entering our eyes and skin, sending signals which adjust our many biological clocks.

Because of shorter, cloudy days, and more indoor TV/ computer drenched lifestyles than we had in the past, fewer of us are getting an adequate amount of sunlight during the winter to keep our clocks in synch. 

When our biological clocks get out of synch, our mood darkens. This is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD.

The statistics: SAD is somewhat different than regular depression (although the two often overlap). SAD strikes somewhere around one in twenty individuals in the south every year i (one in every 8 households)ii .

As a Futurist, the reason I am writing about this phenomenon is that this breakdown in internal body time clocks is predictable, controllable, and repairable, and impacts many members of our community - just like a lot of other things I write about - and as a society we tend to ignore it - just like a lot of other issues I write about. If I can use this phenomenon as a teaching tool, perhaps some of the power we have over other issues I discuss on a weekly basis will come into focus. The hopeful part is that there are things that we as a society can do to reduce its impact. 

As an individual, the first thing you can do is make sure you get outside in the sunlight every day - walk to lunch, or work in the garden. Just search the internet on "Seasonal Adjustment Disorder" , and you will see a host of helpful tips. 

If you cannot be outside some part of the day, you can try a piece of hardware which aims special bright lights at your face, helping your internal clocks reset. These lights come in a variety of sizes, colors of light, and prices ranging from $100 to $500. They see to help many (but not all) people. You can read more about them at the Mayo Clinic website - just search on "Choosing a light box".iii

If these simple steps don't help, it is time to visit your doctor, who can test for Vitamin D deficiency resulting from lack of sunlight, and prescribe specific medications to help you until the days get longer.

Some colleges and universities send out reminders to their faculty, staff and students to be sensitive to mood changes in themselves and others during this time of year, so their community is reminded to plan some outside time each day.

In Ketchikan, Alaska, where SAD is a bigger problem because it is so far north, and has shorter, darker days, those in the helping professions like priests and ministers were themselves suffering from SAD, at the same time their congregations were lining up at the rectory door seeking help. 

The Ketchikan Bethesda United Methodist Church bought all new clergy SAD lights to keep themselves in top shape so they could in respond when needed - kind of like first responders doing workouts to stay in shape. They also created a lending library of the machines for the clergy to loan out so congregants can test them before making a decision to buy.iv

If we knew in advance that one in 8 households in our communities would catch fire, we would take collective action to head off the problem . We know that 1 in 8 households will have someone with SAD during this time of year. Let's take action to reach out to those we sense need a boost, and bring some sunshine to their lives. The world will be a brighter place for all of us.

To assist the editor in fact checking:

i Seasonal Affective Disorder - Depression - Mental Health - New York Times December 18, 2007

ii http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/SAFFFact says average household has 2.53 occupants. Divide 1 in 20 individuals having SAD (see note #1) by 2.53, and you get 1 in 7.72 households having an occupant with SAD. 

iv Bethesda United Methodist Church Sunday Bulletin July 5, 2009