In the encroaching darkness of autumn and early winter, some Nordic people suffer increasing depressive symptoms. In Finland, November is known as ‘the death month’ as it is the time of year that impacts most on the physical and emotional state, and the subconscious knows it is only going to get darker.
Winter depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is technically classified as a diagnosed mood disorder, being a subclass of depression. Its symptoms include sleeping disorders, continuous drowsiness, sadness and a craving for comfort foods such as sugars and carbohydrates.
The University of Kuopio’s Jarmo Laitinen, from the Biomedicine Department, believes a small percentage of the national population suffers from SAD.
“The most effective treatment for winter depression is bright-light therapy. In other words, the seasonal mood variations experienced by SAD sufferers are caused by the lack of light”, Laitinen claims in a new study reported by Helsingin Sanomat. Employees and students leaving home and returning again in the dark also report feeling more tired in the mornings.
Laitinen has suggested that the body’s internal clock must synchronise itself on a daily basis to remain healthy. Light is a major factor in regulating the body clock and the eyes are the conduit for the effects. “According to one theory, winter depression is an abnormality in the rhythm of the internal clock. The eye does not receive the necessary signals when there is no light,” Laitinen reasons.
Some have employed candles to add light and ambience although adding that being surrounded by friends or family is also a trusted remedy. Others have suggested making meals spicier, with chilli and hot mulled wine popular options for warming the body and mind.
Until the winter solstice arrives, on the 21st December every year, the days will continue to shorten.