Seasonal Depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

Do you feel depressed during the winter months – more than you would like? You may have seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder or winter depression. Seasonal depression is a mood disorder that occurs every year at the same time. A more rare form of this disease is known as “summer depression,” it begins in late spring or early summer and passes in the fall. Normal seasonal depression begins in autumn or winter and ends in early summer.

What causes Seasonal Depression?

There are two forms of this disease. The first begins in autumn and lasts all winter, and the second begins in late spring or early summer. The first form of seasonal depression, known as “winter depression,” is easier to recognize, as it is more common and more studied than the second.

Hormones produced in the brain, with the advent of a certain time of year, affect the behavior of a person at this time. Scientists believe that seasonal depression is closely related to these hormonal changes. One theory says that not enough sunlight in the autumn time leads to a decrease in serotonin production in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that has a calming and analgesic effect. As a result, an insufficient amount of serotonin leads to a depressed mood and the manifestation of symptoms such as fatigue, carbohydrate deficiency and weight gain.

Since carbohydrate-rich foods (biscuits, chips, salty sticks) contribute to the production of serotonin, it is believed that it has a calming effect on the body and mind.

Seasonal depression appears for the first time after the age of 18 and is more common in women than in men. For some people, seasonal depression is mild and irritable, for others, the symptoms are more acute and affect personal relationships and performance.

Since this disease is caused by a lack of sunlight, it is rare in tropical countries where summer lasts all year round.

What are the symptoms of Seasonal Depression in winter?

With winter depression, the same symptoms appear as with depression in general:

  • Reduced life energy
  • Difficult to concentrate
  • Fatigue
  • Increased appetite
  • Need to spend time alone
  • Increased sleepiness
  • Weight gain

What are the symptoms of summer depression?

  • Reduced appetite
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Weight loss

How is seasonal affective disorder diagnosed?

It is very important that you do not engage in self-diagnosis and self-treatment. If you notice symptoms of depression, consult your doctor for a detailed examination. Sometimes, certain physical illnesses can also cause symptoms of depression. At the same time, the symptoms of seasonal depression may indicate a more complex mental state. During examination, the doctor must determine the state of the symptoms and, accordingly, prescribe an effective treatment.

How to treat seasonal affective disorder?

Depending on the complexity of the condition, there are different methods of treatment. Also, the method of treatment depends on whether you have another type of depression or bipolar disorder. In seasonal affective disorder, it is recommended to spend as much time as possible on the street in order to fill the need for daylight. If this is not possible due to the dark winter months, antidepressants and light therapy are prescribed.

What is light therapy?

Phototherapy consists of a full range of bright light directed directly into the eyes. The patient sits at a distance of 300 meters from the source of bright light, which is twenty times brighter than normal indoor lighting. Treatment begins with a 10-15 minute session, increasing it to 30-45 minutes a day, depending on the response of the patient.

Some patients recover after several sessions. Another takes a little longer. If improvement does not occur, then the doctor can increase the light therapy to two sessions per day. Patients to whom light therapy brings relief, advised to continue the sessions as a preventive measure until spring comes.

Is phototherapy an effective treatment?

Some researchers attribute the occurrence of seasonal depression to the hormone melatonin, which causes lethargy. When light hits the retina, it triggers a process in the body, which causes a decrease in melatonin secretion. Thus, light reduces the amount of melatonin and promotes the production of serotonin in the brain. Therefore, it is believed that light therapy has an antidepressant effect.

Modern experts believe that with the help of phototherapy, you can treat food disorders, insomnia, and acute depression (conditions not related to seasonal depression). Studies have shown that taking antidepressants along with the passage of sessions of phototherapy, gives a positive result in improving mood and increasing vital energy.

Can seasonal affective disorder be prevented?

If you’ve already had seasonal depression, the following tips will help you avoid it in the future:

  • Try to spend more time on the street, even if it is overcast. You still get the necessary portion of daylight.
  • Even if you have not yet felt the manifestation of symptoms of the disease, begin to attend light therapy sessions with the arrival of autumn.
  • Follow a well balanced diet, making sure that you get all the necessary vitamins and trace elements. This will help to remain energetic, despite the body’s need for carbohydrate and sweet foods.
  • Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes three times a week.
  • Try to stay active in social life and daily activities. For people with mood disorders, social support plays a crucial role in the healing process.

When is it time to see a doctor for seasonal affective disorder?

If you have a feeling of depression, fatigue and irritability at a certain time of the year, and at the same time it recurs a year later and at the same time, you may have one of the forms of seasonal affective disorder. Tell your doctor about your feelings. Follow his recommendations for treatment and ways to change life habits.

If your doctor has prescribed light therapy for you, ask him about the possibility of undergoing this treatment in his clinic. You can also hire or buy the device, but it will not be cheap. Although there are almost no side effects with light therapy, be careful if you have sensitive skin or are prone to mania (manifestation of an extremely excited state and inability to fall asleep).

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