Springtime bad for depression sufferers

Springtime can be bad for depression sufferers – reverse SAD

By Liz Lockhart

Whilst most of us look forward to the arrival of spring we should stop and consider the implication that seasonal changes have on sufferers of mental health disorders.

Spring brings a much needed energy boost and optimism to many of us and yet for those suffering from depression it can have quite the reverse effect.

Extensive research has been carried out by Harvard psychiatrist, John Sharp, into the effects that the changing seasons have on our mental health and emotional well being.

Physical, psychological and socio-cultural factors have an impact on the way we feel according to Sharp’s book with is called The Emotional Calendar.

Sharp told the BBC World Service’s Health Check programme ‘Most peope do feel an increase in exuberance, energy, optimism, excitement, maybe a restlessness and sleeplessness that can come from what the Americans call spring fever.’

‘We are exquisitely sensitive to the effect of physical influences on our mood and behaviour.’

The effects of the seasons have ‘three big realms’ according to Dr. Sharp.

The first is the physical realm in which factors like light and temperature come into play.  Te levels of serotonin and dopamine in the body can be increased during extra hours of sunlight and rising temperatures.  These chemicals are responsible for feelings of well being.

The second realm involves cultural events which could include summer holidays or festivals, such events can give people a positive outlook.

The third realm is connected to event anniversaries.  These can be either positive or negative anniversaries.  You could associate this time with great achievements from the past or negative evens such as death or loss.  These triggers can cause us to relive these moments year after year.

The first two ‘realms’ cause most people to feel more positive in springtime but as Dr. Sharp points out, for those who suffer from depression, spring can have the opposite effect.

‘At the same time as most of us are rolling up our sleeves and sending more time outdoors, others struggle with trying to get into that kind of mode, and counter-intuitively, they feel worse.’

‘If you’re not being carried along with the natural energy of the season it can be really hard’ says Dr Sharp.

In an article on the BBC Health News website it shows that there is one suicide every 84 minutes in the UK and Ireland with May being the month when suicides peak.

Professor Chris Thompson, the director of healthcare services for the Priory Group  said that there is a direct link between the amount of sunshine and the national suicide rate.

‘Spring is a time for new beginnings and new life, yet the juxtaposition between a literally blooming world and the barren inner life of the clinically depressed is often too much for them to bear,’ he said. 

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