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January 06, 2012

Seasonal Ineffective Disorder

Dr Bart Sheehan is Associate Clinical Professor of Old Age Psychiatry within the Divsion of Mental Health and Wellbeing at Warwick Medical School. Here he gives his take on those New Year's resolutions...

SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a type of winter depression that affects an estimated 7% of the population every winter between September and April; in particular during December, January and February - so says SADA, the UKs only charity for this disorder.

Note the key months: December, January and February. These are the months when a majority of the population plan, declare and then fail at a New Year’s resolution. If we are more likely to be depressed, isn’t it surely the worst time to try?

But maybe not. A non-systematic review, i.e. a quick survey of the ethersphere, found me no evidence that resolve (the human characteristic of bravery), persistence and dedication, have seasonal variations. SAD itself might also be NAD - 'nothing abnormal detected' (more medical abreviations).

The whole concept is controversial, many dispute its reality and it isn’t an accepted diagnosis in the main classifications. Trials of the most popular therapy using Heath Robinson-esque light boxes, are inconclusive. Indeed, the only really established association between season and mood is that suicide peaks in April/May/June - and intriguingly also in the Antipodean spring/summer.

The one certainty though is the new year's resolution will usually fail. Our capacity for self-deception is endearing - we strive, mess up, and try all over again. An acquaintance has a good solution, he succeeds in giving up his particular vice for the month of January then has a planned relapse on 1 February, lasting the rest of the calendar year. No failure there.

Happy New Year!

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