How do you deal with seasonal depression?  What does the science say

How do you deal with seasonal depression? What does the science say

real depression

It’s only natural for our moods to fluctuate with the seasons, and even for us to feel a little down in the winter. On the other hand, people with seasonal depression experience symptoms of clinical depression.

“The symptoms are exactly the same,” he says. Kelly Rohana psychologist at the University of Vermont who specializes in this disorder.

“We look for things like persistent sad mood, loss of interest in certain things, changes in sleep, significant changes in eating or appetite, loss of energy, fatigue, or difficulty concentrating,” she adds.

in Winter depression research clinic From Yale University, the most common symptoms of winter depression are hypersomnia (the urge to sleep more than usual) as well as an increased appetite, says Paul Desann, MD, psychiatrist and clinical center director.

It is as if humans are trying to hibernate. »

Most people begin to experience symptoms early in adulthood, but seasonal affective disorder can appear at any point in life. The disease also varies by gender.

“Three times more women than men suffer from social anxiety disorder, for reasons we don’t yet understand,” Desan says.

While a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder is usually made when patients meet criteria for clinical depression, some fail to receive this formal diagnosis.

the reasons

“It is generally accepted that the trigger is a short photoperiod, that is, a finite number of hours between dawn and dusk,” says Rohan. It is the factor that best predicts when symptoms will start. »

But why does lack of daylight cause symptoms of depression?

One leading theory is that the change in daylight disrupts the release of melatonin, a hormone our brain secretes each night to promote sleep. This process is part of our circadian rhythm, our innate biological clock that determines our sleep and wake times.

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According to the theory, our biological clocks are activated by morning light, but as daylight hours decrease in winter, melatonin may be released later and therefore wane later.

Thus, “the alarm clock may go off in the morning, but the body is still in a biological nocturnal state,” Rohan explains.

People diagnosed with social anxiety disorder may be particularly sensitive to schedules that disrupt their circadian rhythm, and to starting and ending at odd hours, such as shift work.

Even with this theory, the specialist says we still don’t know why disrupting the circadian rhythm to such an extent can lead to depression, rather than just feelings of exhaustion.

(Read: What times should we eat our meals? What does the science say.)

summer depression

According to Rohan, a minority of people who experience seasonal depression in the winter may become overly excited in the summer, when the number of hours of light stimulation increases.

Still others have symptoms of seasonal depression only in the summer, possibly due to the heat and humidity.

Instead of feeling low and lethargic, people with social anxiety disorder often feel irritable and restless.

Scientists are investigating whether rising temperatures due to climate change could have a negative impact on… Mental health. according to study Based on the moods expressed on social networks conducted in 2018, depressive language will increase as temperatures rise.

real disease?

The concept of seasonal depression doesn’t seem to convince everyone. study In 2008 she published a study of depression rates among residents in northern Norway who spend two months each winter without seeing sunlight. Did not find any seasonal increase.

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Another study Published in 2016, which looked at a US survey of more than 30,000 people, who had to answer questions about depression. No apparent peaks related to season or latitude were observed.

Stephen Lobello, a psychologist at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama, isn’t convinced that seasonal depression qualifies as a diagnosable mental disorder. According to him, the studies conducted to measure rates of seasonal depression greatly affected their participants. Instead of calling them during the winter and asking if they were depressed, they asked them if they were depressed during the winter; What many people think they have experienced.

“If you’re asking the questions in a way that lets them know where you’re coming from, you’re only measuring that level of faith to me,” says Lupillo.

On the other hand, Kelly Rohan believes that it is possible that the studies cited simply do not detect seasonal depression, since it is a relatively rare phenomenon that accounts for only about 10% of people diagnosed with seasonal depression.

“It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack, not finding a needle and determining that it isn’t there,” explains the psychologist.


For experts, a diagnosis made by a professional is an essential first step in being able to treat people who think they may be suffering from seasonal depression.

“Everyone should avoid self-diagnosis,” recommends Rohan. “Depression is a serious mental health problem, so it is best to rely on trained professionals.”

One of the most common treatments for social anxiety disorder is sitting in front of a light therapy lamp. According to experts, the key is to look for bulbs that provide light equivalent to 10,000 lux.

” [Une luminosité de] 10,000 lux is like being outside on a summer’s day in July. “It’s a lot of light,” Desan says.

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However, note the size of the box. A lamp that is too small may not provide enough light therapy.

Experts recommend doing light therapy sessions for about 30 minutes, usually in the morning, to signal to the body that it’s time to wake up. This remedy can improve your mood the same day you use it. However, the only downside to light therapy lamps is that they only work on the day we use them; Therefore, it must be used daily.

Talk therapy and new habits

There is a treatment that can have lasting effects: Cognitive and behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of talking therapy.

Negative thoughts tend to generate negative emotions. So we want to turn it into less negative and more neutral thoughts,” says Rohan. For example, “I hate winter” could become “Winter is not my favorite season, but I still find it positive.”

Finding winter-specific hobbies can also help.

“People with seasonal depression often have summer-specific hobbies and interests, such as gardening, going to the beach, etc. Instead of hibernating under a blanket, the specialist recommends finding hobbies to enjoy indoors: knitting, joining a book club, or going to a gym. gym.

According to Norman Rosenthal, making lifestyle changes can also benefit mental health. Exercising, learning to manage stress, or planning a sunny winter vacation are all ways to improve your mood.

Whether through light therapy or talk therapy, the psychiatrist stresses that there is no reason not to seek treatment, even if symptoms are only present for a few months a year: “There are many strategies available to help those affected thrive throughout the year.”

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