2 posts tagged “depression community”

Is seasonal affective disorder real? Some call it “folk psychology”— others say it’s legit

Posted March 9th, 2018 by

Mental health experts first recognized seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — or depression that follows a seasonal pattern — in 1987. Some recent research has called SAD into question. What’s with the clashing theories? What do U.S. healthcare experts say, as of today? And how do people treat SAD? Read on.

Questioning SAD

Both culturally and clinically, most people have accepted SAD as a type of depression since it was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) about 30 years ago.

But in January 2016, the journal Clinical Psychological Science published the results of a large-scale U.S. survey that questioned the validity of SAD. The authors’ conclusion? “Depression is unrelated to latitude, season, or sunlight. Results do not support the validity of a seasonal modifier in major depression. The idea of seasonal depression may be strongly rooted in folk psychology, but it is not supported by objective data.” The authors recommended that mental health professionals should possibly stop officially recognizing a seasonal aspect in the diagnosis of major depression.

The DSM (diagnostic manual) still includes SAD, but the 2016 survey led some psychological experts to declare that there’s “no evidence that levels of depressive symptoms vary from season to season.” It also caused some confusion about the legitimacy of SAD in the media, and led to headlines like “Seasonal affective disorder is probably a myth” and “SAD doesn’t exist — here’s the science.”

While no one is questioning the validity of depression as a diagnosis or real condition, the 2016 study has muddied the waters around whether depression may be associated with seasons.

Tip: PatientsLikeMe is a great place to track how you’re feeling each day and look back at previous seasons or years to spot any possible trends (and share them with your doctor or provider).

NIHM: SAD is real, let’s tweet about it

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) still considers SAD a legitimate type of depression, and outlines the symptoms, risk factors and treatments here. It’s so real (and important) that they recently hosted a Twitter chat on the topic of SAD (see an archive of the chat here for non-Twitter users). Psychiatrist Matthew Rudorfer, M.D., chief of the Somatic Treatments Program at NIMH, helped answer questions in the chat on Feb. 20.

Some key stats and facts shared in the Twitter chat?

  • The exact causes of SAD are unknown. Researchers have found people with SAD may have imbalance of serotonin, a chemical that affects mood. Their bodies also make too much melatonin (a hormone that regulates sleep), and not enough vitamin D.
  • Regionally, the rates of SAD increase with more northern latitude in the U.S. For example, rates of SAD ranges from slightly over 1% in Florida to 9% in New England or Alaska. [The 2015 study NIMH cites seems to contradict the findings of the 2016 survey that found no correlation with latitude or season.]
  • SAD typically hits in the late fall and early winter and goes away during the spring and summer, but depressive episodes linked to the summer can occur (yet they’re less common)
  • SAD is diagnosed four times more often in women than men.

The bottom line? “Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression, a serious illness,” NIHM says. “If you or someone you know may have depression, talk to a health care provider. Don’t try to treat depression on your own with dietary supplements or other products.”

NIMH says there are four major types of treatment for SAD, which may be used alone or in combination (talk with a doctor or licensed mental healthcare provider to make a treatment plan):

  • Medication
  • Light therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Vitamin D

On PatientsLikeMe, more than 800 people say they have seasonal affective disorder, with nearly 200 of them saying SAD is their primary condition. The treatment that members with SAD have reported the most frequently is light therapy.

Interestingly, some publications that labeled SAD “folk psychology” back in 2016 shared a different message following the recent NIMH Twitter chat about SAD: “It’s real — and it’s serious.”

What’s your experience with SAD or seasonal depression? Do you think SAD is its own type of depression? Join PatientsLikeMe to talk about topics like this with with our mental health community, including 20,000+ people living with depression.

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word.


Mike Wallace, Depression and Me

Posted June 11th, 2012 by

In honor of Men’s Health Week, we are pleased to present a guest post by PatientsLikeMe member tiredoftired, a young man who has been living with major depressive disorder since 2007.  Don’t miss this moving essay about how Mike Wallace’s passing earlier this year impacted and inspired him.

As I was driving to therapy on an April afternoon, I heard a news report that Mike Wallace, an original host of the television show 60 Minutes, had passed away.  I was intrigued when the short segment highlighted Wallace’s accomplishments in his battle with depression.  I was only somewhat familiar with the show, but it was obvious from the report that he had a decorated career as a journalist and his professional accomplishments could have easily taken the full slot.  Having struggled with depression myself, I felt compelled to investigate his life further.

Mike and Mary Wallace.  Photo Courtesy of CBS News.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with his work as I was, Wallace was a pioneer of the newsmagazine format, which shaped journalistic television.  He was a pit bull of a correspondent; with his aggressively confrontational approach, he posed direct questions that others were too afraid to ask, often leaving the subject shaken.  Wallace interviewed some of the most eminent, and even fearsome, people and did not hold back on his interrogation-like technique.

But Wallace said that his greatest accomplishment in life was that he survived.  Wallace endured several bouts of severe depression throughout his life, the first of which left him in such emptiness and despair that he attempted suicide as a means of escape.  He used his personal experiences with depression to share ideas that would give other sufferers advice and hope.  Reading about his life made me feel the same comfort he provided to others when he was alive, and I have become encouraged by lessons he transmitted.  Here are the top four:

  • There is no shame in depression: Wallace constantly repeated that depression does not signify an emotional weakness.  The pain, inability to cope and despair are unfathomable to those who have not experienced depression.  It is not a sadness that is surmountable by sheer willpower.  Aside from reassuring sufferers that their pain and disabilities were justified, it comforted them by seeing someone well-respected using his high-profile position to dissolve social stigma.
  • There is no shame in asking for help: The stigma can prevent people from seeking help and make them embarrassed that, unlike others, they are unable to push through sadness themselves.  Wallace said that the single most important thing you can do is to go and talk to someone.  He stressed that it is impossible for one to handle alone, and he encouraged people to seek therapy and take medication, as well as emphasizing the importance of social support from family and friends.
  • You are not alone: During depressive episodes, Wallace often talked to two close friends that also experienced depression.  By talking to those who could truly empathize, he felt comforted and validated.  Not only was he reassured that what he was feeling was normal, they were able to give him valuable insight and ideas.
  • There is a light at the end of the tunnel: Wallace’s friends also gave him hope.  He saw that they had been through the darkness of depression and survived.  And he passed along that message to others. As bad as it seems now, he told people, look at how he emerged from that same prison and went on to live a happy, productive life.

Mike Wallace has inspired me to perpetuate these messages and give others the same comfort and hope he gave me.  Depression is a real medical illness and pursuing treatment is nothing to be embarrassed about. With the help of mental health professionals and a strong support system, we have the ability to fight through the darkness.  By doing that, we can do more than just survive – we can build productive and meaningful lives.

Learn more about Mike Wallace’s struggle with depression in this candid CBS interview from 2006. Also, if you’re living with depression yourself, we invite you to join PatientsLikeMe’s depression community and connect with more than 11,000 others like you.