THE GOVERNMENT'S TOP shrinks are running this ad in a local paper:

"Are you a bear in winter?"If you feel sluggish, sleep more, gain weight or are down in the dumps in the winter, you may have seasonal affective disorder."

I find that hard to imagine.

When it's pitch black when you go to work and pitch black when you come home and your shoes fill up with slush on the way to work.

When the schools have closed, and the kids are ricocheting around the house like little maniacs. And it's the 10th day the schools have been shut this winter, which means the kids won't get out until mid-July, trashing your summer vacation plans.

The snowplow has buried your car, which is OK because the battery is dead anyway, which is also OK because traffic is at a dead standstill for a 30-mile radius and the subway is "experiencing delays," which means it isn't moving either.

And the good news is that it's warming up enough so that the snow that is screwing up the morning rush hours will turn to freezing rain in time for the evening rush hour.

Why would people get depressed and irritable? Go figure.

The ad was placed by the National Institute for Mental Health, which is looking for volunteers for a study of seasonal affective disorder, which goes by the catchy acronym SAD.

What caught my eye in the ad was a prominent picture of a bear. (Get it? "A bear in winter?" The folks at NIMH can run with Madison Avenue's best.)

The ad, with the bear, ran on a Style section page that also featured ads from a half dozen furriers. I thought to myself, "Hey, I'm no tree-hugging animal lover but selling whole dead bears for Christmas is a little strong."

I would have thought if NIMH wanted seriously mopey people this winter, it should have advertised on the sports page. With football season ending, no hockey and little prospect of baseball, sports fans have a lot to be depressed about.

Instead, the ad ran just below a photo of a pair of leopard print, stiletto heel shoes for $415, which means NIMH might recruit some volunteers who are seriously nuts.

If seasonal affective disorder does become a certified ailment, it may be the first new mental problem that didn't start in Southern California.

And, like many diseases, SAD may become a small industry, and, as it so happens, I have a plan for a chain of treatment centers - but not where you might think.

The office hypochondriac calls in:

"I've got seasonal affective disorder. It's a recognized condition under the Americans With Disabilities Act, which means you have to give me three months paid sick leave in Florida so I can sit on the beach and get well."

The boss says:

"We'll do even better than that. We're sending you to this clinic that specializes in SAD. It's in Nome, Alaska. Three days there and this place will seem like Tahiti. Don't forget your longjohns. We'll see you Monday."