Depression That Comes In Autumn Due To Less Daylight

The arrival of autumn and winter , months of rain, cold and darkness, has been associated with sadness and melancholy in many cultures throughout the ages . In older age, and although there is much universal in these connotations, for some people these negative feelings become especially deep and ubiquitous, permeating daily life with apathy and anhedonia.

Psychiatry has baptized this phenomenon as seasonal affective disorder, although it is usually known as seasonal depression . “It is a form of presentation of depressive disorders that is characterized by the presence of major depressive episodes that are repeated at a certain time of the year, usually autumn and winter,” explains Rubén Sanz Blasco, professor of psychology at the Complutense University , to 20Minutos from Madrid and director of the Quartz Center for Scientific Psychology : “Excluding when an event that triggers said state always happens at the same time (for example, being unemployed at the same time repeatedly),” he adds.

It should be noted that this disorder is different from the relative sadness and stress that the end of vacations and the return to work can bring, which coincides for a large part of the population with the end of summer, which is popularly known as post syndrome. -vacation l. The latter, clarifies Sanz, “is not a disorder recognized by the scientific community and simply refers to the more or less intense emotional changes that occur after returning to routine after the vacation period.”

The influence of sunlight
The exact mechanisms by which seasonal affective disorder works are not entirely clear, although scientists point to the influence of sunlight, among other factors. “Although we still do not know some aspects , we do know some variables that may mediate its manifestation,” explains Sanz, who clarifies that “environmental, socio-cultural, personality, genetic factors, etc., intervene in it.”

“Indeed, it seems that light could have a relevant role in explaining what happens in these seasonal pictures,” he continues. “The lack or decrease in sunlight causes alterations at an emotional level that can be explained by neuroendocrine changes. Two hormones involved in this process, although they are not the only ones, would be melatonin and serotonin, both very relevant to mood and for the regulation of biological cycles such as appetite, sleep and wakefulness “

“For example, we know that a greater amount of light stimulates the secretion of serotonin. The increase in serotonin provides a greater level of tranquility, improving sleep and mood balance. Therefore, the lack of light that occurs in the time of autumn-winter would act in the opposite direction, that is, reducing serotonergic levels and impacting, among other things, on our state of mind “, he concludes. “In other words, the light would act by modifying the balance of our neurotransmitters (serotonin, melatonin, dopamine …) and these changes would partly explain the clinical picture, although this would logically affect people vulnerable to emotional problems much more”.

In the same sense, adds Sanz, “this influence of light would partly explain why these emotional alterations occur to a greater extent in Nordic countries , with much fewer hours of sunlight.”

Risk factor’s
However, Sanz clarifies that the decrease in daylight hours does not affect everyone equally. “Sunlight”, he develops, “does not influence all people or to the same extent. It depends on the interaction of variables ; for example, there are people who feel very good on days with little light and rain. Here there would be individual differences , there are no homogeneous rules applicable to all people “.

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Regarding other environmental factors, “they are not as scientifically clear as light, which does not mean that, for example, a person cannot be affected by the temperature in their mood”.

In fact, there are a number of risk factors that can put a person at greater risk for seasonal affective disorder. “As in any other psychopathological manifestation, the greater the number of variables or risk factors present (for example, a higher level of neuroticism, less social support and resources, stressors and the way of coping with them, worse sleep habits, etc. ) the greater the probability of the appearance of depression “, says Sanz.

When to seek treatment
Be that as it may, “when the degree of suffering is considerable and when the appearance of sadness, fatigue, apathy, etc. begins to be disabling for the person’s life,” explains the expert, it is advisable to go to a specialist. “In summary, when the negative mood is intense, the episodes are very frequent or it lasts excessively over time.”

And it is important to act because, according to Sanz, “when talking about recurrent episodes of major depression, the impact on the quality of life is high, producing great suffering in the person and a very significant interference in their daily life to all levels “.

If we choose, then, to seek professional help, “the fundamental treatment lines would include psychological treatment with scientifically endorsed techniques, phototherapy and pharmacotherapy if necessary,” says Sanz.

In addition, there are a number of habits that can be adopted to minimize the risk of seasonal affective disorder. According to Sanz, “the prevention guidelines would be common to those given for other emotional pictures, not only affective but also anxiety, stress, etc. As examples it would be important to take care of food, carry out good sleep hygiene, promote physical activity adapted to the conditions of each person, lead an adequate social life, reduce stress levels … “

And he concludes: “Taking into account that a single variable does not operate in isolation in the triggering of any mental health problem, dealing with what depends on our control is important.”