The riddles of Seasonal affective disorder


Ms Helen Stevens

Coresynthesis Research Centre, UK


Seasonal affective disorder is a mood disorder in people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year. The data on the distribution of SAD in different countries and some recommendations with regard to data specification elements are introduced.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD, winter depression, winter blues, summer depression, summer blues, or seasonal depression) is a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year, experiencing symptoms of depression in the winter or summer,[1] spring or fall, year after year. Some people may sleep too much, they have little life power, and they may feel depressed.[2]

SAD distribution in the U.S. ranges from 1.4 percent in Florida to 9.7 percent in New Hampshire.[3] In Alaska, it was established SAD level of 8.9% and even higher level of 24.9%.[4]

About 20% of Irish people suffer from SAD, according to a survey conducted in 2007. The study also shows women are more likely to be affected by SAD than men.[5]

Approximately 10% of the population in the Netherlands suffer from SAD.[6]

There is a general downturn in the mood (winter depression) among residents of most countries of Northern Europe.[7]

In Iceland, it was found that the prevalence of seasonal affective disorder and seasonal changes in anxiety and depression were low in both sexes (the study of more than 2,000 people). The study authors suggested that the propensity for SAD may differ depending on certain genetic factors in the population of Iceland.[9] A study of Canadians of Icelandic descent also showed low levels of SAD.[8]

Recently, it has been suggested that this may be due to the large amount of fish, which is a traditional food of the Icelandic people - in 2007 about 90 kilograms per person per year compared to about 24 kg in the USA.[10]

A similar relationship was noted in Japan, where annual consumption of fish in recent years has reached 60 kg per capita.[11]

 Help yourself

1. Fish in a healthy diet. The high level of fish consumption should be viewed as prevention of seasonal affective disorder. The fish contains vitamin D. Fish also contains DHA (docosahexaenoic acid, DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid)), which have been shown to help with various neurological disorders.[12]

2. Improve Self-regulation. Setting and achieving goals related to self-care, productivity and leisure. Depression arises from the inability to accomplish a goal related to inability to motivate and achieve their goals. Define your goals. Identify the steps needed to achieve them, the obstacles that delay progress. Create a plan of how goals can be achieved.[13]

3. Outdoors walking can give a "therapeutic effect" of depression, as well as light therapy.[14] In Denmark, working outdoors has been effectively used as a therapy for people with winter emotional disorders.[15] Groups involved in horticulture, have demonstrated a positive effect on depressive symptoms, which may be associated with psychosocial adaptation.[16]


1. Seasonal Depression can Accompany Summer Sun. Ivry, Sara. The New York Times. Retrieved September 6, 2008

2. MedlinePlus Overview seasonalaffectivedisorder

3. Friedman, Richard A. [1] “Brought on by Darkness, Disorder Needs Light”. New York Times’’, 2007-12-18

4. Seasonal Affective Disorder and Latitude

5. BreakingNews.ie - One in five suffers from SAD

6. Elsevier – Dark Days: Winter Depression (Dutch)

7. wikipedia.org - Seasonal affective disorder

8. Magnússon A, Axelsson J (1993). "The prevalence of seasonal affective disorder is low among descendants of Icelandic emigrants in Canada". Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 50 (12): 947–51.doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1993.01820240031004. PMID 8250680.

9. Magnusson, Andres; Axelsson, Johann; Karlsson, Mikael M.; Oskarsson, Högni (February 2000). " Lack of Seasonal Mood Change in the Icelandic Population: Results of a Cross-Sectional Study". Am J Psychiatry 157 (2): 234–8. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.157.2.234.PMID 10671392.

10. Fishery and Aquaculture Statistics: SECTION 2 - Food balance sheets and fish contribution to protein supply, by country from 1961 to 2007 Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2008

11. Cott, Jerry; Joseph R. Hibbeln (February 2001). "Lack of Seasonal Mood Change in Icelanders" (Letter to the Editor). Am J Psychiatry (American Psychiatric Association) 158 (2): 328. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.158.2.328. PMID 11156835. Retrieved 2008-09-02

12. Horrocks, LA; Yeo, YK (1999). "Health benefits of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)".Pharmacological research : the official journal of the Italian Pharmacological Society 40 (3): 211–25. doi:10.1006/phrs.1999.0495. PMID 10479465.

13. Strauman TJ, Vieth AZ, Merrill KA et al. (2006). "Self-system therapy as an intervention for self-regulatory dysfunction in depression: a randomized comparison with cognitive therapy". J Consult Clin Psychol 74 (2): 367–376. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.74.2.367. PMID 16649881

14. Similarly,.[93 - Wirz-Justice A, van der Velde P, Bucher A, Nil R. Comparison of light treatment with citalopram in winter depression: a longitudinal single case study. Int Clin Psychopharmacol 1992; 7: 109–116

15. Hahn IH, Grynderup MB, Dalsgaard SB, Thomsen JF, Hansen AM, Kaergaard A, et al. Does outdoor work during the winter season protect against depression and mood difficulties? Scand J Work Environ Health 2011 Mar 1.

16. Fieldhouse J. The impact of an allotment group on mental health clients’ health, wellbeing and social networking. Br J Occup Ther 2003; 66(7): 286-296

Copyright © Helen Stevens. All rights reserved. 

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