When the season becomes synonymous with depression

Seasonal depressions: the winter preponderance of depressive phases

While the arrival of the bad season is accompanied for some of the traditional “winter blues”, researchers besiege depression from all sides: what are the origins and the mechanism, and can we prevent it?

What is the image of winter seasonal depression in society ?

Winter darkness is experienced differently in different cultures. In high latitudes and in Canada and having to fight against a harsh climate, the inhabitants had to get used to the rigors of winter by inventing festivals that compensated for them. Saint Lucia is one example among many. As for traditional China, the way of life took into account and adapted to the specificity of the different seasons. Unlike the West, winter does not feel negatively.

Seasonal affective disorders are in fact defined as a mood disorder characterized by depressive symptoms, occurring during changes of season. Seasonal depression has recently been recognized as a disease in its own right. Its management primarily involves light therapy .

The therapy also has a more rapid effectiveness against seasonal depression than antidepressant treatment. In addition, it does not present a risk of withdrawal and only exposes mild and temporary side effects. It is therefore the first choice of treatment for seasonal depression .

What is light therapy ?

The light therapy is the treatment of choice against the SAD . A reference light therapy session consists of being exposed, within two hours of waking up, to a lamp with a power of 10,000 lux (unit of measurement of light illumination) at a distance of approximately 30 centimeters for thirty minutes. The exposure time is in particular proportional to the intensity of the lamp. The patient can indeed perform different activities, such as reading or using a computer during the session. Therapeutic effects are usually seen after one to two week (s).

Although an association between mood and seasonality has been known since antiquity, seasonal affective disorder has therefore only been studied as a clinical psychiatric entity since the early 1980s. Currently, there are many papers. on the subject, evoking seasonal affective disorder or winter depression. There are several diagnostic tools, the most used being the seasonality questionnaire. The global prevalence of the disorder rises and increases with latitude up to 10% in northern countries.

Who does it concern ?

The seasonal depression affects 1 to 3% of the general population. It most often occurs in fall or winter, when the days are short and dim, and disappears in spring. It can affect both adults and children, the average age being however between 20 and 40 years with a preponderance among women (75%).

The change in circadian rhythm during the winter period can cause the following symptoms: depressed mood, marked anxiety, low energy or difficulty concentrating.
Hypersomnia and compulsive eating of sugary foods are the two typical symptoms of winter depression . Some people may also exhibit such symptoms during low light summer periods, but this is rarer.

The main diagnostic criterion is in short the repetition of the same symptoms during two consecutive winter periods (with disappearance during the off-season). During the winter period, exposure to sunlight, sufficient physical activity, a balanced diet and fixed bedtime can sometimes be enough to alleviate symptoms.

When treatment is needed for seasonal depression, light therapy is the first choice. The response rate is between 60 and 90%. If symptoms persist, antidepressant treatment or cognitive behavioral therapy may be started. It is possible to combine these treatments in the event of non-response to one of them.

Naturopathic advice to prevent the risk of seasonal depression :

  • Eat healthy
  • Produce more dopamine through exercise
  • Take care of yourself
  • Listen to music
  • Treat yourself
  • Air out every day for at least an hour
  • Let the light in your house
  • Fill up on Omega 3 and magnesium
  • Make up for vitamin D deficiencies
  • Increase your serotonin level
  • Adopt a positive attitude
  • Go to bed at regular times

The etiopathogenic data are based on disturbances of circadian rhythms (phase delay) influenced by the photoperiod and the involvement of melatonin, the production of which is linked to light, acting on numerous biological parameters. Light therapy is the first-line treatment, making it possible to compensate for the lack of winter light, yet there are effective psychotherapies (cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal and social therapy of rhythms). The link between the organism’s normal adaptation to the seasons, in parallel with animal hibernation, and the pathology of winter depression gives food for thought.

Plant and winter depression :

The activity is linked to an inhibition of the reuptake of neurotransmitters (especially serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine) and to a moderate interaction with GABA-A receptors. The antidepressant effect is probably due to a synergy between different substances. St. John’s Wort is indicated in depressive states (mild to moderate depression), but especially in seasonal depressions occurring during nervous fatigue and physiological conditions such as menopause . However, no positive effects should be expected before 10 to 14 days of treatment.

  • The World Health Organization recognizes as “clinically established” the use of oral St. John’s Wort in the treatment of “mild to moderate depression”.
  • The European Scientific Cooperation in Herbal Medicine recognizes the use of oral St. John’s Wort to relieve “mild to moderate depression”.
  • The US National Institutes of Health consider that the use of oral St. John’s Wort “to treat mild to moderate depression with similar efficacy to other antidepressant drugs” is “based on strong scientific evidence”, and as “based on good scientific evidence ”the use of oral St. John’s Wort in the treatment of“ psychosomatic disorders ”.

Dosage : 5 ml to be mixed in a large glass of water, to drink 2 times a day for 1 month, renewable for 3 months.

Did you know ?

St. John’s Wort cancels the contraceptive effect by eliminating ethinylestradiol when taken simultaneously with an oral contraceptive. Hence the need to be very careful and pay attention to the many drug interactions of St. John’s Wort. St. John’s Wort interacts with a very large number of drugs and plants , which severely limits its use: more than 70 substances or families of substances have been identified as interacting with St. John’s Wort! This phenomenon is due to the activation, by hyperforin, of an enzyme in the liver responsible for the elimination of many substances, which can accelerate the elimination of many drugs and reduce their effectiveness.

One rule is essential : if you take any medication, or a plant, or a food supplement, always seek advice from your doctor or pharmacist before taking a product based on St. John’s Wort. With or without a prescription, the use of St. John’s Wort should therefore always be done under medical supervision.



Clementine. M.
Naturopath – Aromatherapist / Herbalist – Phytotherapist
Consultant in Clinical Phyto-aromatherapy and Ethnomedicine

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