Study Raises Doubts About Winter Depression
Researchers at Auburn University are casting doubts on the existence of seasonal depression – a mood disorder linked to reduced sunlight during the winter.
In fact, they say this form of depression – known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and recognized by the mental health community for nearly 30 years – “is not supported by objective data.”
The study team used data from a telephone survey of more than 34,000 U.S. adults. The respondents were asked about the number of days they felt depressed in the past two weeks. The researchers matched these responses with the location of each person and the day, month, latitude and amount of sun exposure when interviewed.
People who responded to the survey in the winter months, when there was less sunlight exposure, had no greater levels of depressive symptoms than those who responded to the survey at other times, the researchers said.
The study, published in Clinical Psychological Science, noted that seasonal affective disorder was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) – the bible of psychological diagnosis – in 1987.
Dr. Matthew Lorber, acting director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who was not part of the Auburn study, agreed that seasonal affective disorder may not be a “legitimate diagnosis.” Big drug companies, Lorber said, pushed to have SAD recognized as a standard diagnosis. “It then allowed them to market to a new population to use their medications.”
The American Academy of Family Physicians says that up to 6 percent of U.S. adults have winter depression, and as many as one in five have mild SAD symptoms.
But lead researcher Steven LoBello said health professional need to more concerned about misconceptions about what might be causing a person’s depression. “Pursuit of treatments based on false causes,” he noted, “is unlikely to lead to rapid and durable recoveries.”
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