Every year when the seasons change, millions of people sink into a deep despair. They may also suffer from lack of energy and motivation or sleeping too much. These individuals can have difficulty focusing at work or school and exhibit a decrease in performance. Cravings of high calorie foods along with the decreased energy and activity may lead to weight gain. Some get so bad as to contemplate suicide. They may or may not realize that these symptoms are related to a seasonal depression also known as seasonal affective disorder.
Those in the areas farther away from the equator are 6 times more likely to suffer from this condition as those in the sunnier, tropical regions. The suspected cause of these "winter blues" is likely to be due to a decreased amount of daylight that occurs during the winter in the northern and southern most regions of the earth. The decreased sunlight affects the normal circadian rhythms causing an increased level of melatonin and decreased levels of serotonin in the body. Increased melatonin can lead to sleepiness and lethargy while serotonin plays an important part in mood. Decreased levels of serotonin are associated with clinical depression.
Treatment for seasonal depression involves correcting the effects of decreased sunlight. One of the ways to accomplish this goal is through the use of bright artificial lights specially designed for this type of treatment. The exposure to the light will simulate exposure to sunlight leading to a decreased level of melatonin as occurs during the summer. Other treatments include psychotherapy which enables one to discuss one's feelings and recognize that there is a biologic basis for them. Anti-depressant medications that increase the level of serotonin in the brain may also be necessary for those with severe symptoms. Also, giving melatonin supplements at just the right time of the day may also impact the amount of melatonin formed at other times.
Recognizing the annual pattern and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder is an important step in its treatment. Sometimes the symptoms can be mild and treated with some increased outdoor activity on those sunny days during the winter months or a trip to a sunny location for a week or two during the winter. For others, light therapy or anti-depressants may be necessary. If after reading this article you think you might have seasonal depression, you should consider discussing this with your doctor or consider purchasing a light therapy unit to help improve your mood.