Daylight saving time has ended, and winter is in the air. During these darker months, it is estimated that up to five percent of people in the United States suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is described as follows:
Seasonal affective disorder is characterized by feelings of sadness and depression that occur in the fall or winter months when the temperatures begin to drop and the days grow shorter. The depressive episode is often associated with excessive eating, sleeping, and weight gain. Depressive symptoms begin in the fall or winter and persist until the spring. Women are twice to three times more likely to suffer from the winter blues than men.
Seasonal affective disorder can also impact people during the summer months (“the summer blues”), too, but it is less common. People suffering from SAD either are unable to function or function minimally during the season in which their disorder occurs. Seasonal affective disorder shares several symptoms with other forms of depression including lethargy, sadness, hopelessness, anxiety and social withdrawal.
A recent study published in Psychiatry Research explored the possibility of a connection between obsessive-compulsive disorder and SAD. Study author Oguz Tan and his colleagues at Uskudar University in Turkey referenced past research that indicates the prevalence of OCD is highest in Autumn, and light therapy, which is used to treat SAD, has been shown to benefit some people with OCD. According to the researchers, it has already been established that both SAD and OCD share some of the same underlying neurophysiology involving some type of dysfunction in regards to the neurotransmitter serotonin.
Interesting results of the study include:
- More than half of patients with OCD have seasonal mood changes
- Only one-fourth of controls without OCD reported seasonal mood changes
- The severity of seasonal affective changes does not appear to affect the severity of OCD
Most participants with OCD who reportedly had SAD suffered in the colder months, though there were some subjects who had a more difficult time in warmer weather. For this sub-group of people who had both OCD and SAD, compulsions were also worse during the time of year they were affected by SAD. For those who specifically had SAD during the colder months, the severity of their compulsions directly correlated with the lack of daylight hours.
The scientists have acknowledged that their study has some drawbacks, such as relying on the participant’s self- reporting of OCD and SAD symptoms. They recognize that a better study model might involve measuring people’s OCD symptoms over a longer period of time and noting if and how they fluctuate with the seasons. They believe the connection between SAD and OCD certainly warrants further study, and hope to answer questions such as, “How does SAD affect the prognosis, treatment response, and risk of suicide in those with OCD?”
We already know that OCD is often seen with other conditions, and now we can add SAD to the list. At the very least, it is something to be aware of.
If interested, you can read more details about the study here.