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Seasonal Depression as Explained by an Expat Therapist

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In Sweden, they found a troublesome trend amongst some of the refugees in the country. Children were lagging in their development, and the parents were not doing well either. At first, this was chalked down to the trauma of being displaced and then having to adapt to a new country and its culture. But they soon discovered what the biggest problem was: a Vitamin D deficiency and Seasonal Depression.

To most European citizens, this is not something new, as even some born-and-bred locals can experience Seasonal Depression at times. But to those coming from places such as Turkey, Syria, and Africa, it was a revelation. Researchers also found that this affected the majority of people, rather than it being a select few. And the symptoms tended to be much worse and came on much quicker compared to the locals.

It was then discovered that a number of factors, such as the climate of their country of origin and skin pigmentation, played a big role in the exacerbation of the condition. Today, this problem still persists under refugees. But the organisations and authorities involved now know exactly how to deal with and manage the issue. But when it comes to those voluntarily leaving their country for opportunities abroad, it’s a different story.

Most have never even heard about Seasonal Depression and don’t understand what it is, how to recognise its symptoms, or how to treat it. The aim of this article is, therefore, to educate current or future expats and provide them with preventative solutions as well as treatment options.

What is Seasonal Depression?

In an era where the names of most things seem to be in constant flux, that which is most commonly known as Seasonal Depression is (very appropriately) called SAD. This stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder. As the name suggests, it’s when one experiences feeling depressed. But only during certain times of the year (generally during Autumn and Winter).

What Causes Seasonal Depression?

As we’ve seen from our expat therapist sessions, there can be various reasons why one can experience Seasonal Depression. But the majority of the time, it’s due to fewer daylight hours and less sunlight. This causes Vitamin D deficiency and a chemical imbalance in the brain (particularly when it comes to your Serotonin and Melatonin levels).

This is also the reason why so many immigrants and expats are worse hit. If you come from a place where there is always lots of daylight and sunshine, you are part of a population of people whose bodies have evolved over time to rely very heavily on longer days and sunlight. And, the darker your skin, the more you rely on Vitamin D, so the worse you can be affected.

With this in mind, it’s pretty easy to understand why someone from places like Africa and Turkey would be heavily impacted by climates such as what we find in the north, where one can have (maybe) 2 days of sunlight a month and just 5 hours of daylight during the wintertime.

How to Spot Seasonal Depression

Symptoms for Seasonal Depression vary from person to person. But the following are those most mentioned during expat therapist sessions and can be signs that Seasonal Depression has sneaked up on you:

  • Feeling “down” (this needs to be the majority of the day for multiple days at a time before it’s seen as a red flag for potential Depression).
  • Feeling chronic fatigue, like you’re constantly low on energy and everything you do seems to go a bit slower than normal.
  • Your sleep is impacted (whether sleeping too much or struggling to get to sleep).
  • You’re suddenly craving carbs, and you’re picking up unhealthy weight.
  • Struggling to concentrate (this symptom especially impacts scholars or students, and you can see the effects on their grades).
  • Feeling increasingly agitated and irritated at the slightest annoyance or even where there is no trigger at all – it just seems to be simmering underneath the surface all day long.
  • Feeling hopeless.
  • There’s a decrease in your self-confidence.
  • Having suicidal thoughts.
  • Having little to no libido.
  • Feeling an unexplained underlying sadness, as if the tears are always just a sad song or advert away.
  • You’re feeling less and less sociable and start to self-isolate.
  • There’s a clear increase in substance intake (this is usually alcohol or marijuana, but it can take a darker turn with other hard substances).

Who is Most at Risk?

The following factors may leave you at high risk for Seasonal Depression:

If you have already been diagnosed with Depression.

In these types of situations, existing symptoms of Depression get exacerbated during Seasonal Depression. Please remember to share whether you have an existing diagnosis with your expat therapist.

If there is a family history of Seasonal Depression or Other Forms of Depression.

You can actually be genetically inclined to get Depression. This is not always so obvious and often only gets triggered in certain situations or circumstances (such as those suddenly experienced as an expat). So, once again, please mention to your expat therapist if there is a family history of Depression.

If you are far north or south of the equator.

As we’ve already mentioned, many in Europe and the Nordics know about and have experienced Seasonal Depression. So, those who spent their entire life near the equator and then suddenly find themselves without all that sunlight and daylight… It’s not a big surprise that so many experience Seasonal Depression in their new surroundings.

If you have a Vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D deficiencies can be caused by a lack of sunlight. But they can also be caused by other things, such as not following the right diet or an alternative daily routine (such as those who have to work nights rather than days). That means that you can find yourself in a country where there is enough sunlight and daylight, but you still suffer from Depression.

This is also why telling your expat therapist about yourself and your life is so important. Small details you may not have thought twice about can actually be the culprit of your current dilemma. Being an expat therapist isn’t always just about helping someone go through or cope with tough and challenging times. It can also mean that we spot details that may lead to a referral to a medical doctor.    

How to Prevent Seasonal Depression

If you think that you are at high risk of developing Seasonal Depression, there are a few things you can do to try and prevent it:

You can start taking Vitamin D supplements.

These do not need a prescription and are taken daily like most other vitamin supplements. If you know that you come from a place where there is plenty of sunlight and daylight, yet you’re going to a place where sunlight and daylight are a rarity, we would highly recommend getting those Vitamin D supplements.

You can set alarms.

It can be extremely tough to keep to a normal sleeping routine when you can’t even properly distinguish between night and day. By setting alarms for both waking up and going to sleep, you can try to minimise the disruption to your circadian rhythm.  

How to Treat Seasonal Depression

There is not a one-size-fits-all treatment plan for Seasonal Depression, as everyone and their circumstances are unique. But, generally, treatment consists of a combination of the following:

Making a lifestyle change.

Treatment might be as simple as changing something about your routine. For example, you can have your lunch break outside in the sun rather than in the breakroom. Or you can request that you rather work the day shift. Or see if a transfer to a sunnier location with more daylight hours is possible.

Getting light therapy.

Light therapy has become the norm in European and Nordic countries. The light essentially serves as artificial sunlight that has the same effect on the processes in the body as sunlight does. Whilst this treatment is available at certain spas and treatment centres, there are some workplaces that are proactive and use special office desk lamps that have a similar, although less intense, impact.

Receiving therapy.

This is like making an appointment with an expat therapist. These sessions can be invaluable to someone suffering from Depression. Sometimes, it helps to just have a soundboard to vent to. And it can help change distorted views and bring things into perspective again. It can improve interpersonal relationship skills, teach you coping skills for getting through tough times, and help identify stressors and other underlying issues/triggers that can cause disruptions in your life.

Drinking Antidepressants.

In certain extreme cases, it will be necessary to be medicated. It’s important to note that having to drink antidepressants isn’t always a chronic thing. Sometimes, especially when Seasonal Depression is at play, you might only need to drink the antidepressants for a certain period.

Seek Guidance from an Expat Therapist

Some may be uncertain whether what they are experiencing is Seasonal Depression or not. Others may want to know more about Seasonal Depression and how to prevent it before they head off to their new country of work.

For any questions or to find out more about treatment options, please contact us at Or chat with us via our Personal Online Therapy website’s Contact Us page. You can also complete the form below and have us reach out to you:

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