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Understanding seasonal depression (SAD)

Published on October 11, 2019 at 17:34

To some, the return of the cold season means the beginning of a more difficult period.  This is because many people experience reduced energy levels and somber moods as fall settles in.

What is seasonal depression?

SAD occurs when exposure to daylight decreases. This lack of light causes certain hormonal imbalances (e.g.: serotonin and melatonin) that can cause several symptoms that may appear to be similar to depression. These symptoms include fatigue, sadness, difficulty concentrating, and weight gain often due to an uncontrollable desire to eat sweets.  The diagnosis of depression is made by a doctor who can assess the symptoms. But given the similarities in symptoms, it is sometimes difficult to determine whether it is seasonal or standard depression. The diagnosis can be clarified with the periodicity of symptoms and its recurrence year after year. Women are more likely than men to suffer from SAD.

Are there any known treatments for seasonal depression?

The main treatment for SAD is to increase exposure to light. Light therapy is therefore a compelling treatment option. Nevertheless, it is important to ensure that the light is strong enough (10,000 lux) and that you are exposed to it for a sufficient period of time (30 minutes a day, ideally in the morning).

Some studies have advocated the use of vitamin D supplements to help counteract the symptoms of SAD. Although the idea is appealing, further studies will need to be carried out to prove vitamin D's effectiveness for this indication.

The use of antidepressants may be considered for patients with more severe symptoms. It is mainly the impact on patients' quality of life that will be decisive in the choice of treatment.

Can seasonal depression be prevented?

One of the main ways to prevent seasonal depression is to increase the sun exposure during the day. Going out more often, being physically active outdoors or even reorganizing your workspace near a window can be interesting options. In addition, a trip to a sunny destination is also an excellent method to increase the exposure time to light!

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