The results of a new study claim that our long-held belief in so-called seasonal affective disorder relies more in folk psychology than hard data.
While the American Academy of Family Physicians estimates that 4 to 6 percent of Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or winter depression, researchers at Auburn University at Montgomery, think that diagnosis is a load of B.S. In a new study published today in Clinical Psychological Science, they argue that S.A.D., despite what we think, isn’t real at all.
This disorder is usually chalked up to a lack of sunlight exposure during the winter months, and artificial light therapy continues to be one of the most effective treatments. In an attempt to confirm this relationship, the researchers took data from a large cross-sectional mental health survey of American adults and tried to find a link between depression and sunlight exposure. After assessing factors such as latitude, season, and amount of sunlight, the team came to one conclusion: S.A.D. isn’t a thing. There was no meaningful correlation between the prevalence of depression and the amount of sunlight — or lack thereof — in a specific region.
The authors suggest that the concept of seasonal depression persists because it’s so strongly rooted in “folk psychology,” but they assert that there’s simply no objective data to prove that it’s real. Other studies on mental health in subarctic and polar regions have had similar results.
Despite the growing number of studies claiming that S.A.D. isn’t real, patients continue to complain of its symptoms, and physicians continue to diagnose it. The ongoing S.A.D. controversy may come down to a debate over definitions, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the underlying reality of it: People feel depressed in the winter. Regardless of how we choose to classify this phenomenon, it’s still an issue that needs to be addressed.