Do people get more depressed in winter?

Some people do, but is it true on average?  Maybe not, says Ben Goldacre (via Andrew Sullivan):

Back in 1883
Esquirol commented on the higher incidence of suicide in spring and
early summer. Swinscow showed the same thing with all UK suicides from
1921-1948. So that’s not really winter blues. A study in 2000 looked at all UK suicide data from 1982-96 and found that even this seasonal pattern had pretty much disappeared.

What about elsewhere? A 1974 study on all suicides in North Carolina
(3,672) and admissions to their Veterans Hospital Psychiatry Service
(3,258) from 1965 to 1971 showed no seasonal variation. A 1976 Ontario
study found peaks of suicide and admissions for depression in spring
and autumn. Suicide is highest in Summer, says a paper from Australia in 2003. I’m really not getting this Blue January thing.

Maybe you want data from the general population on mood. A study in 1986
looked at 806 representative males from Finland and found low mood more
common in the summer. Some studies do find higher rates of depressive
symptoms in the winter (Nayyar and Cochrane, 1996; Murase et al.,
1995), but then, some find the opposite results, like a peak in the
spring (Nayham et al., 1994) or summer (Ozaki et al., 1995). One study
from just last month proactively asked 360 patients to rate
their mood regularly, rather than waiting for an event, and found no
relationship, again, between mood and season.

Maybe there are other sources of data you could explore? A paper
looking at GP prescriptions for antidepressants in 1984 found a spring
peak. An earlier paper from 1981 (Williams and Dunn) looks at
prescriptions from 1969-75 and finds peaks in February, May and
October. Another
from the same year looked at GP consultations for depression and found
peaks in May-to-June and November-to-January (they found similar
results for osteoarthritis, oddly).

Hail Ben Goldacre!  Here is my previous post on Ben Goldacre.

Comments

>higher incidence of suicide in spring and early summer

Is it possible that people commit suicide when they cheer up? By this i mean during depression could suicide be rare because depressed people have difficulty doing anything. And when peoples mood lifts they then have the spectre of returning to depression but now with enough vigor to carry out actions.

One Goldacre a week is very effective in keeping "scientific" myths at bay.

But there is a relevant revealed preference. A lot of people pay a lot to avoid winter. Are they paying to avoid winter weather and the discomforts it brings; or to avoid being depressed by those discomforts?

Isn't suicide is a trailing indicator of depression?

Also, mild winter weather locations like North Carolina, the UK, or Australia have more people outside during the winter - the incidence of depression in more Northern climates in the winter is probably more pronounced.

Maybe it takes a while for seasonal effects to manifest themselves in brain chemistry. For example, winter might be responsible for an increase in spring suicides if brains are only plastic over a period of a few months with respect to average emotional state.

Quoting Australia as evidence is silly. Almost every part of Australia has beautiful winters with sunny skies and pleasant temperatures.
It's the summers, with endless weeks of sweaty heat and baking nights that get people down, exactly as the statistics show.

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