Sunday marked the vernal equinox, otherwise known as the first day of Spring, a time after which the days get longer and the weather warmer (eventually and at least in the Northern hemisphere).
For those who struggle with their mood during the colder months, as the winter blues give way to spring blooms, their disposition improves.
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression characterized by decreased energy, social withdrawal, irritability, increased appetite and anxiety among other symptoms, according to Medline Plus. The disorder, which like an early snow often first lands in late autumn and can hang around all winter, affects an estimated 10 million Americans, or roughly 3 percent of the population, often affecting women more than men. Anyone living further away from the equator, particularly those experiencing the polar nights in the Arctic or Antarctic regions, is more susceptible to SAD.
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Combating SAD can lead to any number of treatments, including light therapy, vitamin D supplementation, counseling or even antidepressants.
A recent study in Clinical Psychological Science asks a question that might perplex those who feel their own psychological climate changing with the seasons: Does SAD really exist?
According to analysis of a CDC survey of 34,294 U.S. adults ranging in age from 18 to 99, no evidence exists to show that a change in depressive symptoms along with seasonal patterns. Using a combination of self-reported answers to questions screening for depression, geographic location information and seasonal weather data, the researchers did not find any evidence for SAD either in the general sample or a subset of participants who scored within the range for clinical depression.
Although undoubtedly some individuals do experience depression during the fall and winter months, "being depressed during winter is not evidence that one is depressed because of winter," the researchers explain.
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The latest research echoes past studies that considered SAD with some skepticism. A 2013 published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that people often overestimate the impact of wintry skies clouding their mood. The study doesn't refute the existence of SAD, merely that the condition is overdiagnosed.
Using survey data from 556 participants in Iowa and 206 in Oregon cross-referenced against weather conditions throughout the year, Oregon State University researchers found only a modest effect brought on by dreary weather. Accounting for the prevalence of SAD diagnoses, the researchers point to a high level of awareness of SAD as well as just a general dislike of winter weather.
Whether the winter weather causes SAD or just leaves some people feeling a little blue, most everyone can celebrate the warmer weather with the official arrival of spring this weekend.
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Hat Tip: Scientific American