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Dublin: 18°C Friday 19 August 2022

The cold weather and winter do not depress us as much as we think

Seasonal Affective Disorder exists – but not for the majority of the population.

The change of seasons captured by photographer Eamonn Farrell in Newbridge, county Kildare this week.
The change of seasons captured by photographer Eamonn Farrell in Newbridge, county Kildare this week.
Image: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

NEW RESEARCH HAS revealed that the time of year and the weather conditions do not influence depressive symptoms.

Authors of the study say that the winter blues – feeling less happy when it is cold and dreary – are not as common as is often believed.

Lead researcher David Kerr of Oregon State notes that his study does not negate the existence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) but shows that people may overestimate the impact that seasons have on depression in the general population.

“It is clear from prior research that SAD exists,” Kerr, who is an assistant professor in the School of Psychological Science at Oregon State University, said. “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.”

The majority of studies of seasonal depression ask people to look back on their feelings over time.

“People are really good at remembering certain events and information,” he explained. “But, unfortunately, we probably can’t accurately recall the timing of day-to-day emotions and symptoms across decades of our lives. These research methods are a problem.”

Hence, he tried another approach. His team examined data from a sample of 556 community participants in Iowa and 206 people in western Oregon.

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

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“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, a study co-author and a former OSU faculty member. “We were surprised. With a sample of nearly 800 people and very precise measures of the weather, we expected to see a larger effect.”

There could be a number of reasons why the public believe the weather has a greater impact on them, including people’s own awareness of SAD and a legitimate dislike of rain, wind and cold conditions.

“We may not have as much fun, we can feel cooped up and we may be less active in the winter,” Kerr continued. “But that’s not the same as long-lasting sadness, hopelessness, and problems with appetite and sleep – real signs of a clinical depression.”

The report was published in the latest edition of the Journal of Affective Disorders.

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