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Autumnal depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder, a matter of light?

Autumnal depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder, a matter of light?

Autumnal depression

Some people, with the arrival of autumn, warn that their mood drops to the point that they lose the initiative, the vital energy., Etc. They also begin to prefer sweet foods and especially chocolate. Disinterest in social contact is observed and most of the time, due to sleep problems, the character becomes irritable. Welcome to the autumnal depression!

This "low mood" and the ability to work and enjoy life often appears mysteriously with the arrival of cloudy days. It lasts during the winter and, with the first suns of spring, begins to fade and all or almost everything returns to normal.


  • 1 Autumnal depression or seasonal affective disorder
  • 2 Why does autumnal depression occur?
  • 3 What are the main symptoms of autumnal depression?
  • 4 Why is autumn depression more common in women?
  • 5 Prevention and treatment
  • 6 The intensity of autumnal depression
  • 7 Geographical distribution of autumnal depression
  • 8 Conclusion

Autumnal depression or seasonal affective disorder

This condition is known asSeasonal Affective Disorder. East "annual recurring syndrome"was described by Norman Rosenthal, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Georgetown University in Washington who investigated it for 20 years, since 1981.

Since ancient times, the influence of the seasons on humor was known, because for the first time Hippocrates, ("Corpus Hippocraticum") had referred to the" black bile malignancy "or melancholy and its relationship with the circadian rhythm. Seasonal Affective Disorder it appears, then, towards the end of autumn and develops throughout the winter.

Just a matter of light?

Regions located in high latitudes influence this type of depression because of the low daily brightness during these seasons. Thus, people who live near Ecuador have an insignificant incidence rate. But even near the poles, the victims will be those predisposed to develop depression.

Always women…

It mostly affects women of childbearing ageIt usually starts around 20-29 years in people with a family history of affective disorders.

The decrease of the light, is the trigger of this disorder that is repeated year after year, that disappears spontaneously with the arrival of spring or with the change of hemisphere, but, it affects in 85% women of around 30 years, and especially to those who have a certain predisposition or vulnerability, Judging by family history and personal history.

When the warm months arrive, some people become hypomanic or manic (cheerful and anxious for excess).

Why does autumnal depression occur?

According to Dr. Julio Moizeszowicz, "the mechanism of action would almost inevitably involve the retino-hypothalamic light beam, with possible participation of the pineal gland, melatonin and the β-adrenergic receptor whose 'phase advance' has been considered pathogenetic ".

The biological clock

The unpleasant consequences of a flight from one hemisphere to another, which is known as "jet lag"; or the feeling of maladjustment due to the change in time, especially if it shortens the days, are only alterations of the circadian rhythm or biological clock of people.

The biological clock It is a pattern of physiological response to changes in brightness, which regulates such basic functions as: when to eat, sleep, body temperature, blood pressure, etc. All this in a 24-hour period, although there are small variations according to age. For example, a 20-year-old has a circadian rhythm of 25 to 26 hours; a young adult, 24 hours; and the pace of the elderly is less than 24 hours.

Light or darkness, mainly, inform the brain to secrete or stop releasing certain hormones responsible for the functioning of the body. One of the most important is melatonin.

Proven its relationship with sleep, it is known that it is released between 21 and 8 hours and that, when their blood levels increase, body temperature decreases. This would explain, according to some scientists, the need for carbohydrates of patients with seasonal affective syndrome: it is assumed that in them the levels of melatonin during the day would be higher than usual. This would lead to a decrease in body temperature that would be compensated with calorie intake.

In addition, it has a relationship with mood, because it affects serotonin levels in the brain. It has been observed that when melatonin increases, the levels of this neurotransmitter decrease. Two weeks of insufficient light would suffice to decrease serotonin levels and lead to depression, always in predisposed individuals. "

What are the main symptoms of autumnal depression?

  1. Depression
  2. Irritability
  3. Loss of energy
  4. Hypersomnia or increased dream
  5. Increased appetite, especially carbohydrates (sweets and chocolates).
  6. Weight gain.
  7. Decreased sexual desire
  8. Avoidance of family or social contacts.
  9. Decrease in daily activity.

It is advisable to pay attention to mood and energy levels when cloudy days begin to appear. If symptoms such as depression or sadness arrive during the fall, some measures must be taken to prevent the occurrence of seasonal affective syndrome.

Why is autumn depression more common in women?

Different factors influence:

  1. Genetic: Some authors believe that certain genes would be involved. Situation demonstrated by the family predominance of suffering affective disorders.
  2. Biological: "Studies carried out in different parts of the planet show that women suffer more mood disorders and anxiety, while men are more impulsive and prone to drug addiction. The reasons are hidden inside each other's brains."

Some researchers point out as a cause of these differences the predominance of one cerebral hemisphere with respect to the other, which would vary according to sex.

  1. Hormonal: Women tend to suffer abrupt changes in their emotional stability according to their natural cycle. So, during the pre-menstrual period and postpartumThey are much more sensitive to develop a mental problem, to suffer a relapse or to suffer from a depressive disorder. In general terms, women react with hormonal changes (increased melatonin during the months of low light and cold) to factors of the most diverse nature, in this case climate.
  2. Psychosocial: Women tend to react with depression to psychosocial stressors and to adopt guilt-centered behaviors.

Prevention and treatment

  1. Luminotherapy or phototherapy It is the appropriate therapeutic tool for the symptoms originated, in part, in circadian rhythm disturbances. Thus, in depressive cases of a seasonal nature, in alterations of menstrual cycles, in the pathology derived from work in rotating shifts and in flight disorders or jet lag, the light therapy It is providing excellent results in affected people.

Exposure to bright white light is recommended, with an intensity of 2500 lux (500 W power) for at least 2 hours a day, a minimum of 2 weeks.

In the eye and to a lesser extent in the skin (especially the back of the knee or hamstring), there are the essential mediators (receptors) of this clinical effect.

  1. The psychoactive drugs They can complement phototherapy in more resistant cases.
  2. The psychoeducational orientation It enables the patient to notice the importance of performing hygienic-dietary measures to overcome the problem.


  • Make the most of sunny days for walks or walks.
  • If possible run during the morning.
  • Perform physical activity even before autumn begins and the problem is triggered. Let us not forget that since it is a seasonal disorder, the patient knows it beforehand, to the point that they define themselves as "hibernators."
  • At work or office, desks should be installed near the window.
  • In homes, high power lamps must be used.
  • Avoid the darkness of small environments, removing objects that do not reflect the light.
  • In the case of women, who are about to find a baby, it is recommended to plan the pregnancy in such a way that childbirth, which can be a trigger of depression "per se" does not coincide with autumn-winter.
  • The psychotherapy

Although the triggers of the disorder are more related to Biology than to Psychology, it should not be forgotten that in any pathology the one who becomes ill is a human being. This implies that it influences your personal history, the desires and the utopias of the subject. With depression appear self-reproaches, guilt, pessimism, whose content will be convenient to analyze to understand that suffering being.

The intensity of the autumn depression

For Rosenthal, 20% of the population suffers from this form of depression to different degrees. 6% of cases are very disabling and the remaining 14% is more mild.

Geographical distribution of autumnal depression

There are clear geographical differences. Even within the same country, as we approach the poles, the prevalence increases and decreases when we approach Ecuador. For example, in the area of ​​Florida (United States), where you can enjoy a climate with lots of sunlight, the prevalence is 1.5%. On the other hand, if we go to the northern regions near Canada, where there are gray and rainy days, that figure rises to 9%.


While it would seem a somewhat romantic disorder, due to the fact that mood varies with time, who suffers it feels that he has lost his vital energy. He also feels that he cannot keep up with the usual rhythm of his life, that he cannot respond to labor requirements or those guided by their roles. And this, in itself, feeds depression. The understanding of that being remains the key to help.

Iris Pugliese
Degree in Psychology

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