Winter Depression Not As Common As We Think, Study Says

Don't blame winter for your bad mood.

Blaming a bad mood or more severe depression on the winter weather may not have as much clout as previously thought. A new study recently published online in the Journal of Affective Disorders, found that neither time of year nor weather conditions influenced depressive symptoms. Say what? Here in new England, we blame winter for pretty much everything. However, lead study author David Kerr of Oregon State University said this study does not negate the existence of clinically-diagnosed seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but instead shows that people may be overestimating the impact that seasons have on depression in the general population.

The study says that we may overestimate the power of the “winter blues” for a several reasons. First, there is the general awareness of SAD, and second, the high prevalence of depression in general. Another reason for blaming winter for the blues is an overall dislike of winter weather. “It is clear from prior research that SAD exists,” Kerr says in the study. “But our research suggests that what we often think of as the winter blues does not affect people nearly as much as we may think. We may not have as much fun, we can feel cooped up and we may be less active in the winter. But that’s not the same as long-lasting sadness, hopelessness, and problems with appetite and sleep, the real signs of a clinical depression.”

According to Science Daily, Kerr and his colleagues analyzed data from a sample of 556 people in Iowa and 206 people in western Oregon.

Participants completed self-report measures of depressive symptoms multiple times over a period of years. The data was compared with local weather conditions, including sunlight intensity, during the time participants filled out the reports.

“We found a very small effect during the winter months, but it was much more modest than would be expected if seasonal depression were as common as many people think it is,” said Columbia University researcher Jeff Shaman, the study’s co-author in a statement. “We were surprised. With a sample of nearly 800 people and very precise measures of the weather, we expected to see a larger effect.”

Kerr says that people who believe they have SAD should get help. Clinical trials show cognitive behavior therapy, antidepressant medication, and light box therapy all can help relieve both depression and SAD.