Some people who claim to have normal mental health almost all year round experience depression during the same period every year. Such condition is known as winter depression in which they may sleep too much or may show to have little energy.
Researchers are puzzled by winter depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) but believe that people who suffer from this disorder have a particular sensitivity to light or the absence of it.
It is estimated that up to 3% of the population in the United States is diagnosed with SAD, while countless more suffer from winter depression symptoms. Moreover, many people that already suffer from year-round depression find that their symptoms worsen in winter. — Gregory L. Jantz Ph.D.
Season Of Depression
As the sun sets earlier during late autumn, seeing falling leaves covering the ground and meeting morning frosts, you start to sense that melancholic feeling engulfing you all over. It is the depression trying to kick in as less sunlight becomes available and your body rhythm becomes out of sync.
Studies show that people who exhibit depressive symptoms during this season feel better when they are exposed to bright light. However, there are places, especially those in the higher latitudes, where people have less exposure to sunlight yet with less percentage of the population experiencing winter depression.
Some therapists have considered the use of artificial lights to replace the lost sunlight which is said to improve some people’s moods. However, with continued study, they found it to be more complicated than just receiving the light. The right time when a person receives the light is far more critical, which is mostly in the morning.
At the other tail of the onset season — around the winter solstice, just when the sunlight begins its annual climb upwards — the depression hits more quickly. For most people, though, the slump begins in mid-October and the depression arrives by Thanksgiving. — Michael Terman Ph.D.
Circadian Rhythm Phase-Shift
Your watch or clock may tell you when it is time to do something. Body-wise, we also have an internal clock which dictates when we should be resting and when we should be awake, or when we should do things that are important for our body to maintain its balance.
Studies have shown that Alaskans despite receiving very little sunlight have a low percentage of residents experiencing this seasonal affective disorder. One resident who does not suffer from depression says that he tries to be as active as he could during the winter. For him, there is a lot to do, like cutting firewood, using the snow machine, and spending time with friends over a cup of coffee.
With the result of this study, researchers have come to a new conclusion that people with the seasonal affective disorder may be genetically inclined to clinical depression and some could be due to too much melatonin production. At wintertime, people with SAD release more melatonin than at other times of the year.
Light Therapy To Treat Winter Depression
If melatonin is the reason for the depression, light therapy treatment works as light controls melatonin production. SAD light therapy box functions as a source of artificial sunlight at the most appropriate time that the person affected by winter depression may produce the required serotonin to enhance natural sleep cycles and general well-being.
Consisting of a portable unit, light therapy can help some people affected by SAD avoid the impact of low sunlight levels on neurochemistry, and may also receive a boost from the positive aspects of the light itself, even in as little as three days. Of course, some clients report that simply spending time outside during the day –whether to take a walk or engage in another activity– can have the same benefits. — John Smith PhD
Other Forms OF Treatment
Propranolol is thought to improve seasonal affective disorder symptoms by restricting melatonin flow in the morning. Antidepressants such as Paxil and Prozac are also useful for some people with SAD. New research regarding adverse ions and their effect on having high energy and positive mood is still in the process. It is said to be related to levels of serotonin in our brain. That may explain why there are people who feel better and energized once they take a trip to the beach.
Seasonal affective disorder or winter depression can happen even to people who are mentally healthy during other times of the year. There is yet a lot of study being done to prove that it is caused by chemicals responsible for our body’s circadian rhythm or there could be another underlying culprit why it is so.
People in the Arctic, a place where we can conclude that no one can escape from suffering SAD as they receive very little sunlight, have reported fewer incidents of winter depression. One reason they were able to think that could be that people who could not handle the weather could have left and only those who have no genetic predisposition to clinical depression and light sensitivity have stayed.
However, some people who live in Alaska believe that if they stay inactive, depression might eat them up so it’s better to remain active since there are a lot of things to do. One thing they do to fight off depression is to spend time with friends, drink coffee with them and chat.
Chatting, hugging and cuddling has shown to be effective in fighting off depression. What can be more effective than receiving a warm touch from friends and loved ones whom you spend time with on a regular basis especially during the cold, dark, gloomy weather?