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May 13, 2011
Seasonal affective disorder may be less common than we think
By Lilian Anekwe
September 9. 2013

As summer nears its end, a timely study has looked at the links between changes in the seasons and the weather, and how likely people are to have symptoms of depression.

What do we know already?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that causes symptoms that happen in a seasonal pattern, at certain times of the year, usually during the winter.

We know that the weather and the seasons can affect people’s mood. Things like how long the days are and how strong the sun is, as well as the temperature and how much rain, humidity, or wind there is, can all make a difference. But it is thought that, for people with SAD, the weather can affect their bodies in such a way as to make depression more likely. However, much of what we know about this subject comes from studies that rely on people’s own assessments of the causes of their moods, which may not be the most reliable kind of evidence.

The new study included records from 762 people in two areas of the United States. Over a number of years, the participants filled out several questionnaires designed to measure whether they had symptoms of depression or were bothered by other kinds of problems (like having less energy than usual).

The researchers recorded the time of year, and collected information about the average weather conditions in the two weeks before each participant filled out a questionnaire. They then looked to see if there was a link between the seasons, the weather, and how likely people were to have symptoms of depression.
What does the new study say?

When the researchers looked at people’s individual responses to the questionnaires, they found that their symptoms of depression were more severe during the winter months than in the other seasons.

But when the researchers looked at the group as a whole, the link wasn’t very strong. None of the weather patterns they looked at, or the season or time of year, could be used to predict whether people would have symptoms of depression that needed treatment.

Even when the researchers looked only at the participants who had previously had depression, there was still no overall link between the weather and how likely people were to have symptoms of depression.

How reliable is the research?

This study was designed to overcome some of the problems common to other studies in this area, and to make the results more reliable. The researchers used questionnaires that are commonly used to measure depression and precise measures of the time of year and weather. This is more precise than asking people about their general mood or relying on them to provide information about the weather or the season. The study lasted between 19 and 22 years, to build up long-term data about people’s depression symptoms.

However, although this in an improvement on some earlier, less reliable studies, the results are likely to only apply to people in the regions that were studied, or who live in areas with a similar climate. People in other parts of the world may be affected differently, and any link to depression symptoms may be very different.

What does this mean for me?

Earlier studies suggested that about 1 in 30 people in the UK had SAD. However, the researchers argue that their results show that far fewer people may have the condition than previously thought.

They do point out that this study doesn’t mean that SAD isn’t real, or that previous studies that found a link between weather and people’s mood are wrong. But it seems that some people may be too quick to put their mood down to the weather or the season, when the cause may be something else altogether.

Of course, depression can be a serious illness. If you have symptoms of depression for any reason, there are treatments that help, which you can discuss with your doctor.


MVP, Forum Supporter
Sep 15, 2012
I actually get physical as well as emotional symptoms...

The first time I experienced SAD was when I was 8 years old... it was such a strange sensation to be unable to get out of bed and have no energy whatsoever that I remember it vividly to this day... there is a growing body of evidence that the weather and geo-location can have massive effects on both your mood and your health

Scotland has some of the highest levels of M.S in the world and most of the countries in the top ten are in the northern hemisphere... low pressure (weather) systems and amount of light are both suggested as reasons for SAD's prevalence along with many other reasons.

But over the years I have read some fascinating stuff... the list of countries that have never had a recorded suicide says a lot... they are all lovely sunny countries.

I also once read about a person with crippling M.S that went on holiday to a high altitude country that was warm and the entire time they where there they could walk.

I think there is a lot more to do investigation wise into both SAD and other weather related disorders, we as humans like to think of being in control of our environment but as time goes on I suspect and maybe am hopeful of the realization that we are more influenced by these factors than we would like to be.

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