Winter depression - what to do?

Many people fall into a melancholy mood at the beginning of autumn. This is in most cases not a depression - because the 'Seasonal Dependent Depression' (SAD) is a subtype of depression that occurs only rarely. Interview with Prof. dr. Ulrich Hegerl, Director of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University Hospital Leipzig, on the topic of autumn-winter depression.

Is it true that many people fall ill with depression in autumn and winter?

No, the so-called Seasonal Dependent Depression is a rather rare subtype of depression. Only about ten percent of all depression during the autumn and winter months is accounted for by this. Over the year, there are only minor variations in the occurrence of depression.

But it is true that many people feel more slack and listless at the beginning of autumn?

Yes, certainly many people feel a temporary melancholy mood as the first leaves fall and life withdraws more to itself. However, this is part of life and has nothing to do with depression in the medical sense.

Is the fall-winter depression different from the timing of its occurrence in other forms of depression?

In contrast to seasonal independent depression sufferers do not suffer from sleep disorders, but have an increased need for sleep. Another distinguishing feature is the appetite. Depressed patients have a lack of appetite and often lose weight, but people who suffer from Seasonal Dependent Depression are more hungry, especially on carbohydrate foods such as sweets. By the way, a Seasonal Dependent Depression can only be said to have occurred for at least two consecutive years in that season.

Why does this mental illness develop in the dark months?

Responsible for the Seasonal Dependent Depression could be the reduced solar radiation, because the sunlight affects via the retina in the eye certain messenger substances in the brain. These in turn affect messengers such as serotonin, which is associated with depression. Light also has an effect on the production of the body's own hormone melatonin, which, among other things, influences the sleep and wakefulness of the body. Melatonin is increasingly released during the darker half of the year, which may cause some people to feel increasingly drowsy and sleepy. - However, these assumptions are not clear to date.

How is an autumn-winter depression treated?

In this particular form of depression, light therapy is often helpful. You do not necessarily need special light lamps, a daily long walk outdoors is sufficient. Even on dull days, the light outside corresponds approximately to that of a therapy lamp. Another advantage is the movement in the fresh air. In severe Seasonal Dependent Depression, however, a light therapy is usually not enough. In addition, then usually a drug and possibly a psychotherapeutic treatment is necessary.

How do I know if I am suffering from depression?

People who suffer from treatment-related depression, whether seasonal or not, show some symptoms for at least two weeks. These are not only psychological symptoms such as listlessness, pleasure and disinterest or a depressed mood, but can also be physical disorders. For example, backache or stomach pain can indicate a depressive illness.

Can you give tips to people who do not have depression but are more melancholic and unpowered in autumn and winter?

It is good to do sports regularly in the winter, ideally in the fresh air. It is also important to cultivate social contacts and not to withdraw too much. Just taking care of yourself, doing pleasant things and consciously doing good and not sleeping too long, that is certainly a probates "recipe" to come in a good mood through the darker half of the year.

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