Can the change of season really cause depression?

Summer has always been my favorite season. Being from Brooklyn, there’s always something to do, like going to the beach, the pier, or grassy Central Park. I love being greeted by the warm sunshine and beautiful weather when I wake up every single day, and I can’t wait to go outside and start my day. As soon as the fall, and especially winter, start creeping up, I can’t help but get sad thinking about the brutal weather and terrible cold that’s going to hit as soon as November rolls around. I also notice that every time the temperature drops, I lose all motivation to wake up for class, go outside, or even hang out with my friends. I get sad and coop myself up in my room until it gets warm again, something thats been happening for many years now. I recently found out about Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is what I believe is causing all of this. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is characterized as recurrent episodes of major depression at the same time every year (usually the winter). When I first found out about it, I thought that it was absolutely ridiculous, but I find it hard to believe that the depression that I get every winter is a coincidence. I decided to research more into the topic and find out the answer – can the change of season really cause depression?

sad-dis-happy sad-dis-sad

Many people believe that Seasonal Affective Disorder isn’t real, and an article published in the Journal of Affective Disorders even tries to disprove it. The only thing that this article proves, though, is that the study that Winkler, the author, is trying to disprove is just poorly done.

  1. The author states that the diagnosis of SAD is always based on patient history, which MayoClinic proved to be true. SAD diagnosis is done with a physical exam, in-depth questions about your health, lab tests, and a psychological evaluation (MayoClinic). In the study that they are attempting to disprove, the scientists only asked the patients about current symptoms. This does not mean that the disorder does not exist, the research is just done incorrectly.
  2. The second problem with the study that was done was the fact that the interviews were done randomly throughout the year, and not in the winter months when SAD is actually prevalent in people. This caused the researchers to diagnose depression in those people as SAD, when it was clearly just depression, something that affects people all year round. Again, this does not disprove that SAD is real, it just shows that the study was poorly done.


And although correlation does not equal causation, we can test for causality by changing something.

  • Direct Causality – Cold temperatures cause seasonal depression during that time
  • Reverse Causality – Depression causes the cold temperatures
  • Third Variable – Cold temperatures and depression during this time are not causally related, but something else effects them both.
  • Chance

We can automatically get rid of reverse causality, because depression certainly doesn’t cause the temperature to drop, the tilt of the earth’s axis does by changing the seasons.

A study done by Peter Graw from the Chronobiology and Sleep Laboratory in Basel, Switzerland  did show that Seasonal Affective Disorder is real, and can be managed, by showing the direct causality of cold temperatures on seasonal depression. He did this by exposing two groups, women with SAD, and a control group, to outdoor light (known to be extremely beneficial to people with the disorder) in both the summer and the winter. His results showed that the light had virtually no effect on the control groups mood and alertness during both seasons, and that both their mood and alertness stayed the same, but drastically improved the mood and alertness of the group with the disorder.


By manipulating the amount of light both groups received, this study was able to show direct causality between cold temperatures and seasonal depression. Although third variables can also be still be a possibility of causation, the likely answer is direct causality. Assuming that this study was done well, we can also rule out chance.

It is actually very reassuring to conclude that Seasonal Affective Disorder is real. For the longest time I believed that something was seriously wrong with me and the fact that I, without failiure, felt so sad at the same time every year. Thankfully there are better ways to deal with it than counting down the days until spring, and maybe this year I’ll use some of them to actually feel better when the temperature drops.


Sources –

  1. Study 1- SAD has been disproven
  2. Study 2 – SAD proven to exist by experiment
  3. MayoClinic – Diagnosing SAD

Pictures –

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