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Singing the blues come wintertime.

"Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is depression that occurs on a seasonal basis," says Kathryn Roecklein, psychology faculty member in the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh (Pa.). "It does have the same symptoms and severity as major depressive disorder and, in fact, the technical name for SAD is 'major depressive disorder, with seasonal pattern.' It's just what we call depression that occurs in the winter and goes away in spring."

The winter blues, on the other hand, create lesser depressive symptoms, "but people still might find it problematic or disruptive to their lives," Roecklein explains. "There are people who don't seem to have any problem with the winter. Then there are the rest of us in the middle who notice some changes."

SAD has the same genetic, psychological, and environmental risk factors as depression during the rest of the year. Researchers still are trying to pinpoint exactly which genes are involved, but they believe the decrease in available daylight that occurs in winter is the major environmental factor: "We don't think it is temperature," she indicates.

Roecklein came to her expertise in SAD beginning with her study of circadian rhythms, which are regular, daily biological sequences in our body processes. Orcadians are likely what generate yearly rhythms, known as circannuals, she notes, and once daylight gets really short, our mammalian circannual rhythms determine that it is winter--and SAD may kick in.

Using a study of identical twins raised separately, SAD researchers have determined that genetics are nearly as influential as environment and psychology combined--47% to 53%, respectively. "Because people think they'll feel better in spring, they may not be inclined to get treatment," but SAD can account for one-third to one-half of a person's depression across a year and can increase social, occupational, and relationship problems. Depression also may lead to diabetes, obesity, and other health difficulties.

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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2016
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