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Winter blues contribute to Ohio’s high depression levels

Courtesy of MCT

Gray skies, cold weather and fallen snow have all contributed to a bleak feeling during the winter in Ohio, and recent increases in Ohio depression levels could be connected to the weather.

While a recent string of warmer days in central Ohio is out of the ordinary for this time of year, Ohio is consistently at the top of lists of people suffering from seasonal affective disorder.

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is when a person suffers from episodes of depression that occur at a certain time of the year, usually during winter.

Daniel Strunk, an assistant professor in clinical psychology, said SAD can affect many Ohio residents during the winter months, because of the lack of sunlight.

“Seasonal Affective Disorder … is characterized by the onset of depression during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight,” he said.

Strunk said generally this slight depression is temporary, and ends with the changing of the seasons.

“The depression generally lifts during spring and summer,” Strunk said.

Strunk did say, however, that the state you live in is not a particularly strong predictor of risk for depression.

Randy Nelson, professor and chair of Ohio State’s Neuroscience and Psychology departments agreed with Strunk by comparing depression numbers of California and Ohio.

“I didn’t note any differences in mood,” Nelson said. “The (pharmacy) data don’t suggest fewer prescriptions for anti-depressants in California versus Ohio.”

Michael Kurz, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said the weather in Ohio has “slightly changed” over the past 30 years.

“The weather in Ohio from 1981 to 2010 has raised about a 10th of a degree in warmth,” but Kurz added. “It’s nothing too significant.”

Part of the unpredictable weather pattern that brings cold snow, light rain, fog and cold wind in central Ohio is due to its location.

“We often get extended periods of clouds streaming from the Great Lakes in Michigan,” Kurz said. “It goes from one extreme to another in no time and snow bands come often … the fact that we’re having thunderstorms in the middle of January shows how impressive these climate shifts are.”

Nelson said, however, unpredictable weather is not the decisive factor for depression in Ohio.

“The long-term effects of a month of gloomy gray skies of December in Ohio might negatively affect more moods than the unpredictability of weather in Ohio,” Nelson said.

Nelson said light energizes people’s moods.

“There is some evidence that bright sunny skies or bright lights do ‘energize’ people compared to gray or dark skies,” Nelson said.

Strunk said for those who suffer from depression, there are several common treatments.

“Light box therapy, anti-depressant medication and psychotherapy are commonly used in the treatment of SAD,” Strunk said.

Brad Stone, spokesman for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said Ohio residents suffer from mental illnesses, like SAD, more than many other states.

“Ohio is ranked one of the top 10 states with serious mental illness,” Stone said.

Stone also said Ohio consistently ranks in the top 20 for suicides.

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