I’ve been feeling a little out of sorts lately, with a dip in my mood and some sleep troubles, and it occurred to me that it might have something to do with the change in season. Chicago has been warming up (yes, “warming up” and “spring-like weather” for us means in the forties) and melting, and the sun has been peeking out a bit. But wait, shouldn’t that be good, not bad, for depression?–after fighting a cold, hard winter?
The cold, hard data might surprise you. Research and medical studies have proven again and again that seasonal depression—and suicide–actually peaks in the spring and then gradually tapers off into December, which is when it’s at its lowest point. That seems to be counterintuitive to everything we think we know about how a lack of sunlight and social isolation can make you blue.
The reasons for this spike remain unknown, but there are many theories about contributing factors. One of the most common environmental theories is the presence of allergens in the air and inflammation, both of which have been scientifically linked to depression. A social theory I’ve seen suggested is that after a winter spent in a sort of emotional hibernation people feel pressured to socialize again, and that comes with its attendant difficulties and emotional risks. Similarly, people may feel pressure to be happy and productive when they’re still transitioning out of hibernation mode.
Physically, there is an increase in energy levels, which is theoretically a good thing but can also lead to decreased sleep and increased excitability, both of which are potential triggers for mania. Increased energy may also contribute to the energy to act on self-destructive thoughts that have been brewing in the winter, including self-harm. As a doctor from Johns Hopkins Medicine phrased it: “I believe that those who may have spent the winter depressed find themselves, in the spring, still depressed, but with the energy and motivation to take their own life.”
Personally, I feel like I experience seasonal affective disorder (or SAD) in the winter and feel depressed and listless. However, I seem to experience a different kind of depression entirely in the spring–a much more anxious one and perhaps more intense for that, which makes sense reading all this.
So if you find it odd that you seem to be feeling some kind of spring seasonal depression, acknowledge it as a real thing, get some extra help if you need it, and realize you are not alone. It’s more common than you think.