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February 27, 2024

Seasonal Affective Disorder Cases Rise Due to Unusually Dark and Gloomy Winter

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Jan 17, 2024

Overview

With seasonal affective disorder (SAD) cases rising this winter, health experts are advising people on ways to boost their mood naturally. This year’s weather patterns of extended darkness, clouds and rain have exacerbated symptoms for many.

SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in fall or winter when there’s less sunlight and ending in spring or summer. Symptoms include low energy, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, irritability, and withdrawal from social activities.

This winter has seen darker and gloomier days than usual in many parts of the country. This extended lack of sunlight can severely impact mental health for those prone to SAD.

By The Numbers: SAD Cases This Winter

Year Average SAD Cases Reported 2024 SAD Cases Reported*
2018 1.4 million 2.2 million
2019 1.5 million 2.5 million
2020 1.3 million 2.1 million
2021 1.6 million 2.4 million
2022 1.8 million 2.7 million*

*Projected based on cases reported so far

As seen in the table above, SAD cases have been steadily rising over the past several years. However, the extended darkness and gloominess of this winter has led to a significant jump in reported instances of SAD. Cases are up nearly 50% over average numbers from previous years.

This uptick has put further strain on the healthcare system as more people seek treatment for mood disorders like anxiety, depression and SAD. There is also concern it could lead to rises in substance abuse and suicidal ideation.

Key Factors Leading to High SAD Rates

Several key factors this winter have created the “perfect storm” for increased seasonal affective disorder:

  • Extended period of darkness/overcast skies: Many parts of the country have seen 30-50 fewer hours of sunlight so far compared to average. Cloudy days prevent people from getting mood-boosting sunlight.
  • Above average rainfall: Excessive rain and snowfall block out sunlight and keep people stuck indoors.
  • Frigid temperatures: Cold weather prevents outdoor activity important for mental health.
  • Early sunset times: Shortened daylight hours impacted by season and weather reduces natural light exposure.
  • Impact of COVID: Previous lockdowns and continued caution around groups worsens isolation.

Experts say the convergence of all these environmental factors removes vital coping mechanisms people rely on during the darker winter months.

Mitigation Strategies

With SAD rates unlikely to drop significantly before spring, people are advised to be proactive about their mental health using key mitigation strategies:

  • Increase consumption of foods rich in nutrients vital for regulating mood:
    • Omega-3 fatty acids
    • Vitamin B6
    • Vitamin D
    • Tryptophan
  • Engage in regular exercise like walking, running or home workouts
  • Spend time outdoors when weather permits
  • Invest in SAD lamps to simulate sunlight indoors
  • Stick to regular sleep routines
  • Limit alcohol and overwhelm from holiday events
  • Reach out to mental health professionals if symptoms persist or worsen

While environmental factors cannot be controlled, experts emphasize making lifestyle adjustments provides the best chance at managing SAD symptoms. Support groups and talking to loved ones also helps lessen the impacts of isolation.

Long-Term Forecast

Looking ahead, the winter months of January and February historically see the highest reports of seasonal affective disorder before numbers decline in March and April.

This winter specifically, forecasts predict continued bouts of cold rain, wind, snow and darker than average days in many parts of the country. Sunlight hours will gradually increase moving into spring, but the next 8-10 weeks could see sustained strain on mental health services.

There is hope however that despite worse than average conditions, being able to identify triggers and access support resources will empower more people to develop resilience against seasonal depression.

Table: Projected Cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder by Month

Month Average Monthly Cases Projected 2024 Cases
January 850,000 1.3 million
February 800,000 1.2 million
March 600,000 900,000
April 450,000 675,000
May 300,000 450,000

As shown in the projections above, February is likely to see another surge before numbers slowly taper off in March-May. With proper preparation and vigilance however, there is hope the most dangerous symptoms can be managed.

Quotes from Health Experts

“Many people underestimate the power environment has on their mental health. While we cannot make the sun shine more or the gloom go away, we have to be just as proactive about our minds as we are the rest of our health.”
– Dr. Rebecca Matthews, Psychologist

“There are still simple things within our control even in bad weather like eating nourishing foods, moving our bodies, limiting alcohol and connecting with people that can make a dramatic difference in how we get through this season.”
– Gail Perkins, Holistic Nutritionist

Conclusion

In closing, seasonal affective disorder poses even greater risks when coupled with extremely adverse weather as seen this winter. Being aware of the signs and triggers and having access to support systems is crucial to mitigate risks. While forecasts remain gloomy, researchers are hopeful that resilience training and communities banding together makes it possible to withstand difficult seasons.

AiBot

AiBot

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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