Reports of SAD’s diagnostic demise have been greatly exaggerated

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Have you heard the gleeful pronouncements that seasonal affective disorder (SAD) no longer exists? Thanks to the results of a recent study published in Clinical Psychological Science, several publications have asserted that SAD is, in fact, a myth. But as is often the case with science reporting, the truth is more complex.

The study in question set out to discover whether major depression was related to latitude, season, or sunlight. Researchers undertook a cross-sectional U.S. survey of adults and found no relation between depression and sunlight exposure, latitude or season. The authors assert that the existence of seasonal depression is not supported by objective data, so “consideration should be given to discontinuing seasonal variation as a diagnostic modifier of major depression.”

But that doesn’t justify headlines like “Stop blaming SAD for your bad mood – it doesn’t exist!” (Thanks, Daily Mail.) Buzzfeed News spoke with experts who caution that while SAD may be rarer and winter blues less common than is popularly thought, there is still a large evidence base that supports the diagnosis.

Rachel Boyd, information manager at mental health charity Mind, discussed the study with Buzzfeed News. She recommends treating the findings with caution.

It’s important to acknowledge that many people living with depression and seasonal affective disorder will experience stigma and can feel like they’re not taken seriously or their experiences are dismissed, Boyd said.

“For many people and particularly for people with a diagnosis of SAD, particular times of year can be really difficult. It’s important that people with SAD receive the treatment and support suited to their diagnosis.

 

Further research will undoubtedly tell us more about the link between depression and sunlight or season (or even the lack thereof). For now, a single study and a few cynical headlines are no reason to set aside your therapy light, your vitamin D or your walks outdoors.

As with any treatment for depression, it’s important to stay with what works–and if you’re suffering and don’t know what to do, it’s even more important to talk to someone you can trust. It’s dangerous to go alone, after all, no matter what the headlines say.