Is Daylight Saving Time to Blame for Seasonal Depression?

iStock
iStock

The precise root cause of seasonal depression has eluded scientists for years. Now researchers think they’ve found the answer: daylight saving time. They published their report in the journal Epidemiology.

Seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects around 1.6 billion people across the globe. Its symptoms mirror those of generalized depression; what differentiates SAD is the timing of its onset, which coincides with winter’s shorter days and long, dark nights.

We know that sunlight, or the absence of it, has a powerful effect on our bodies. But scientists have yet to find a definitive physiological link between darkness and SAD, a fact that makes some wonder if there aren’t other variables at play.

Previous studies have found a relationship between the shift from daylight saving into standard time and other health problems, but they had not looked specifically at the transition’s effect on depression. To get a better idea, an international team of researchers looked at Danish hospital intake records from 1995 to 2012, including 185,419 diagnoses of depression.

As expected, they saw an increase in hospital admissions for depression as winter descended. But that increase spiked at one particular time: the month immediately following the changing of clocks.

The researchers controlled for variables like day length and weather, which they say confirms that the 8 percent rise in depression diagnoses was not a coincidence.

And while their study focused on people with severe depression, the authors say the time shift likely affects “the entire spectrum of severity."

Though the study did not identify the mechanism responsible for time change–related depression, the researchers believe it may have something to do with the way daylight saving manipulates our hours of light and dark. Danish daylight saving protocol steals an hour of daylight from the afternoon and moves it to the early morning—a time, the authors say, when most people are indoors anyway.

"We probably benefit less from the daylight in the morning between seven and eight, because many of us are either in the shower, eating breakfast or sitting in a car or bus on the way to work or school. When we get home and have spare time in the afternoon, it is already dark," co-author Søren D. Østergaard of Aarhus University Hospital said in a statement.

Then there are the psychological effects. In changing the clocks, we are forced to acknowledge the arrival of months of darkness, a realization that Østergaard says “is likely to be associated with a negative psychological effect.”

Fortunately, while we still don’t fully understand the causes of SAD, we have found effective treatments. If you find yourself depressed as the year winds down, talk to your doctor and look into a therapeutic light box.

From Cocaine to Chloroform: 28 Old-Timey Medical Cures

YouTube
YouTube

Is your asthma acting up? Try eating only boiled carrots for a fortnight. Or smoke a cigarette. Have you got a toothache? Electrotherapy might help (and could also take care of that pesky impotence problem). When it comes to our understanding of medicine and illnesses, we’ve come a long way in the past few centuries. Still, it’s always fascinating to take a look back into the past and remember a time when cocaine was a common way to treat everything from hay fever to hemorrhoids.

In this week's all-new edition of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy is highlighting all sorts of bizarre, old-timey medical cures. You can watch the full episode below.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here.

Game of Thrones Star Sophie Turner Opened Up About Her Struggles With Depression

Helen Sloan, HBO
Helen Sloan, HBO

Playing one of the main characters on the most popular show currently on television isn't always as glamorous as it seems. Sometimes, the pressures of fame can be too much. Sophie Turner realized this while playing Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones, and has recently revealed how being in the public eye took a toll on her mental health.

Turner took on the role of Sansa Stark in 2011, when she was just a teenager, and she quickly became a household name. Now, at 23, she's come forward to Dr. Phil on his podcast Phil in the Blanks to explain how negative comments on social media affected her self-image and mental health.

"I would just believe it. I would say, ‘Yeah, I am spotty. I am fat. I am a bad actress.' I would just believe it," Turned explained. "I would get [the costume department] to tighten my corset a lot. I just got very, very self-conscious."

Later on, these feelings led to major depression. Turner developed a sense of isolation after she realized that all of her friends and family were going off to colleege while she was pursuing a sometimes-lonely acting career.

"I had no motivation to do anything or go out. Even with my best friends, I wouldn't want to see them, I wouldn't want to go out and eat with them," Turner explained. "I just would cry and cry and cry over just getting changed and putting on clothes and be like, 'I can't do this. I can't go outside. I have nothing that I want to do.'"

The feelings of depression stayed with Turner for most of the time she was filming Game of Thrones, and it's a battle she's still fighting. "I've suffered with my depression for five or six years now. The biggest challenge for me is getting out of bed and getting out of the house. Learning to love yourself is the biggest challenge," she continued.

The actress shared that she goes to a therapist and takes medication for her depression—two things that have helped her feel better.

Between Game of Thrones ending and planning her wedding to fiancé Joe Jonas, Turner may not have the time to take on many new acting roles in the near future. However, we'll continue to see her as Sansa Stark in the final season of Game of Thrones, and as Jean Grey in Dark Phoenix, which hits theaters on June 7.

[h/t: E! News]

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