Interview with Dr. Laurent Chneiweiss, medical specialist, psychiatrist.
In absolute terms, how can you tell the difference between seasonal depression and the "simple" winter blues?
The blues of winter is a moderate accentuation of a seasonality that we know almost all. We speak of seasonal depression from the moment when there is a significant handicap: the individual can no longer, despite all his efforts, lead the same life as before. It is no longer a difficulty to get up in the morning, but an effort that often does not succeed. It is no longer a fatigue that, despite everything, allows to perform most of his daily tasks, but a real sleepiness that slows down gestures and spirit.
Why are some people more sensitive to this drop in brightness?
In general, affective disorders, whether depression or pathological anxiety, affect women more often. Seasonal affective disorder affects 80% of women, and in most cases women between 20 and 50 years old. It is generally considered that depressed women are twice as numerous as depressed men.
Can it be dangerous to use light therapy?
Light therapy is safe. Only a few patients with extremely rare retinal pathologies can be affected. The lamps do not heat (therefore no risk of drying out the cornea), and do not diffuse ultraviolet radiation (so no risk to the skin). This is not a reason to use it anyhow. Light is the signal that synchronizes the outside world and the internal biological clock. This signal goes through the retina and you should not wear sunglasses, otherwise you will be completely ineffective. On the other hand, light causes significant stimulation. It must therefore be used in the morning. Exposing oneself at night may cause insomnia.
Can you give some advice to those who know they are subject to this blues?
If you are subject to winter blues, start getting ready in the summer. Exercise in the morning (the better is jogging), balance your diet by reducing fat and what was called before fast sugars. Always in the summer or spring, take the time to observe yourself when you are tired. Make the difference between what is possible to do or not. You will avoid giving in to the temptation to think "all or nothing" in winter when you are tired. Fatigue does not prevent you from doing everything, it only hinders a part of the activities.
Finally, as we have seen above, light therapy is safe and has shown its effectiveness. His only real constraint is the time required to pass in front of the lamp: half an hour is not always easy to find in the morning. But it is surely the best investment to realize.