Norman E. Rosenthal is a South African, author, psychiatrist and scientist who in the 1980s first described winter depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and pioneered the use of light therapy for its treatment.
Rosenthal was born and educated in South Africa and moved to the United States to complete his medical training. He established a private practice and spent 20 years as a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) where he studied the disorders of mood, sleep, and biological rhythms.
Rosenthal’s research with SAD led him to write “Winter Blues” and two other books on the topic. More recently Rosenthal has written a book on the Transcendental Meditation technique and conducted research on its potential influence on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In total, he has written eight books, including one on the topic of jet lag, and published 200 scholarly papers.
Rosenthal (b. 1950) was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. He received his M.B. B.Ch. (equivalent of an M.D.) from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and completed an internship in Internal Medicine and Surgery at Johannesburg General Hospital. He moved to the United States to further his education as a resident, and then became Chief Resident in psychiatry at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.
Rosenthal began a private practice in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. in 1979. At the same time, he began a research fellowship with Frederick Goodwin at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. This was the beginning of a 20 year career with the NIMH as a Researcher, Research Fellow, and Senior Researcher. Rosenthal became the director of seasonal studies at the institute and in 1985, led research with 160 participants on the effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and later studied the psycho-physiological phenomena of "spring fever".
Rosenthal co-authored the book, How to Beat Jet Lag in 1993 and in 1998, he was named clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School. He became the Medical Director of Capital Clinical Research Associates in Rockville, Maryland in 2001 and is currently its CEO. He received a special recognition award from the Society for Light Treatment & Biological Rhythms (SLBTR) in 1999 and published the book The Emotional Revolution: How the New Science of Feeling Can Transform Your Life in 2002.
Early in his career, Rosenthal learned the Transcendental Meditation technique while in South Africa, but found that as a medical student and a medical resident he didn't have time to practice. Then 35 years later, after one of his patients had a dramatic improvement as a result of TM, he began practicing again and then began recommending it to his patients. In 2011, he published Transcendence: Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation, which debuted at number seven on the New York Times' Best Sellers: Hardcover Advice, How-To And Miscellaneous list. Earlier that year, Rosenthal published preliminary research on the potential influence of TM on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Rosenthal has written more than 200 scholarly publications and his writings have been featured in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Psychiatry Research, Archives of General Psychiatry, Biological Psychiatry, Molecular Psychiatry, and Journal of Affective Disorders. He continues to conduct research on pediatric and adolescent SAD, pharmaceutical treatments for SAD and the effects of light therapy on seasonal bipolar disorder and circadian rhythms. He is often cited in mainstream media as an expert on the topic of SAD.
According to his web site, Rosenthal has received the A.P.A. New York District Branch prize for paper written by a resident, the Psychiatric Institute Alumni Prize for best research performed by Psychiatric Institute Resident, the Public Health Service Commendation Medal, the Anna Monika Foundation Award for Depression Research, the Public Health Service Outstanding Service Award.
Rosenthal is referred to as the pioneer of research into seasonal affective disorder. In 1984, he coined the term and began studying the use of light therapy as a treatment. Rosenthal’s interest in studying the effects of the seasons on mood changes emerged when he emigrated from the mild climate of Johannesburg, South Africa, to the northeastern USA. As a resident in the psychiatry program at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, he noticed that he was more energetic and productive during the long days of summer versus the shorter darker days of the winter.
In 1980, his team at NIMH admitted a patient with depression who had observed seasonal changes within himself and thought previous research regarding melatonin release at night may be able to help him. Rosenthal and his colleagues treated the patient with bright lights, which helped to successfully manage the depression. They conducted a formal follow-up study to confirm the success. The results were published in 1984, officially describing SAD and pioneering light therapy as an effective treatment method. The research on SAD and light therapy is inconclusive and in someways controversial, as not all researchers agree with Rosenthal's conclusions on the effect of light therapy and at what time of day the light should be administered.
Rosenthal has written three books on the topic of SAD; Seasonal Affective Disorders and Phototherapy (1989), Seasons of the Mind: Why You Get the Winter Blues and What You Can Do About It (1989) and Winter Blues (2005). As a result of his research and publications, "it is now widely acknowledged that winter depression has a sound medical basis, involving changes in the body's mood centers" associated with exposure to light. Rosenthal later identified a form of reverse SAD which some experience in the summer season.
- Seasonal Affective Disorders and Phototherapy, edited with M. Blehar, New York: Guilford Press, 1989.
- Seasons of the Mind: Why You Get the Winter Blues and What You Can Do About It, New York: Bantam Books, 1989.
- How to Beat Jet Lag, co-authored with D.A.Oren, W. Reich and T.A. Wehr, New York: Henry Holt, 1993.
- Winter Blues, New York: Guilford Press, 1993.
- St. John's Wort: The Herbal Way to Feeling Good',' New York: Harper Collins, 1998.
- The Emotional Revolution: How the New Science of Feeling Can Transform Your Life, New York: Citadel, 2002.
- Transcendence: Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation, New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2011.
- The Gift of Adversity: The Unexpected Benefits of Life's Difficulties, Setbacks, and Imperfections, New York: Tarcher, 2013.