Seasonal affective disorder may be just an urban legend, researchers are now speculating, calling into question the validity of this heavily publicized form of depression.
The controversial study, which was featured in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, was led by Steven LoBello, psychology professor at Auburn University, in Montgomery, Alabama.
The researcher and his colleagues wanted to determine if seasonal affective disorder is a genuine diagnosis, or just a myth promoted by Big Pharma in order to sell as much medication as possible.
Theoretically, this type of depression is triggered by seasonal changes, usually debuting in autumn, and becoming more potent and debilitating during winter months, as temperatures drop and sun exposure is greatly diminished.
Apparently, seasonal affective disorder is more likely to appear at that time of the year, because the production of melatonin is severely perturbed, and this hormone normally allows people to regulate their emotions, and avoid mood swings, while also assisting them in having a good night’s sleep.
Seasonal depression also tends to occur during colder months because sunlight exposure is greatly diminished, as the days are much shorter than usual. This allegedly affects the body’s circadian rhythm, and also hampers the release of serotonin, frequently nicknamed the “happiness hormone”.
As psychologists have been saying for decades, all these factors contribute to seasonal affective disorder, which has been included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders ever since 1987.
However, some have not been so convinced that this supposed form of depression is actually real, while others have suggested that the disorder is far less common than we have been led to believe.
For example, Kelly Rohan, affiliated with the Department of Psychological Science at the University of Vermont, has long been investigating adult mood disorders, such as depression, menstrual distress and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
And yet, during her studies, she has discovered that just a handful of the people diagnosed with SAD actually suffer from this condition, while the vast majority of them actually don’t experience significant changes in their levels of depression as the seasons change.
At the moment, the American Academy of Family Physicians estimates that approximately 6% of all American adults have the winter blues, while around a fifth also suffer from less debilitating forms of seasonal depression.
However, according to Rohan, these current statistics may have been overblown, as very few people genuinely experience SAD after all.
Rohan’s claims however aren’t as vehement and inflammatory as those recently formulated by LoBello, who is now purporting that despite being so frequently discussed and analyzed, seasonal affective disorder isn’t even real.
His study, based on information collected during the 2006 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, focused on more than 34,000 US adults, who had been asked questions assessing their level of depression. One such query referred to the number of days during which the participants had felt gloomy or distressed in the last 2 weeks.
When comparing these answers against other data (the season and time of day that each subject had referred to, the individual’s geolocation, sunlight exposure etc.), no statistically significant differences were identified between persons who had been surveyed during winter and those who had taken part in the study during summer months.
These findings were further supported by a follow-up trial, involving over 1,700 subjects suffering from clinical depression. When examining the symptoms these individuals exhibited all year round, there were no obvious dissimilarities triggered by seasonal changes.
Based on these results, LoBello is arguing that seasonal affective disorder may actually be just a fabrication, that we have been brainwashed to accept as real, in spite of a staggering lack of empirical evidence.
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