Shorter days, frigid temps ,and a serious shortage of vitamin D—the long, cold, lonely winter can be a real b*itch. But according to new research published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science you can't blame Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for your winter blues. Because it might not actually exist.
SAD describes changes in depression that coincide with changes in the seasons. It's a pretty widely accepted part of the cultural conversation at this point (SAD was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the official encyclopedia of mental and psychological disorders, in 1987). But who doesn't get depressed after an entire season of holing up with nothing but Netflix and Seamless to keep them company? (Did you know feeling blue could actually make your world seem grey?)
Typically, to receive a SAD diagnosis, patients have to report recurring depressive episodes that correspond with the seasons—usually fall and winter. But according to the latest research, the prevalence of depressive episodes is very stable across different latitudes, seasons, and sunlight exposures. Translation: It has nothing to do with the lack of light or warmth winter brings.
The researchers examined data from a total of 34,294 participants ranging in age from 18 to 99 and concluded that symptoms of depression could not be tied to any of the seasonal measures (time of year, light exposure and latitude).
Then how we explain those winter blues? Depression by definition is episodic—it comes and goes. So just because you're depressed in the winter doesn't mean you're depressed because of winter. It might be more coincidence than correlation or causation. (This Is Your Brain On: Depression.)
If you're seriously down in the dumps, it's worth talking to your therapist or doctor. Otherwise, get out and enjoy the snow, hot toddies and evenings huddled up by the fire.