Imagine you’re a person who loves going to the beach, running outside and doing all kinds of physical activity while you also bask in the warm sun. Now, imagine if you’re that kind of person but you live in a climate that is extremely cold and gloomy for more than half the year. For those people who love winter sports, winter is a great time to enjoy being outside. But for those who love being out on bright and sunny days, it can be really hard for them when the winter months come around.
It seems that some people are more seriously affected by the different seasons, so much so that it creates challenges with their mental health and well being.
A new study using the patterns of Google search queries suggests that mental illnesses flourish in winter and decline in summer.
In both the United States and Australia, researchers found distinct seasonal patterns, high in winter and low in summer, in searches pertaining to anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, depression, suicide, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and schizophrenia. The study appears in the May issue of The American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Searches related to eating disorders varied the most — 37 percent higher in winter than summer in the United States and 42 percent higher in Australia. The smallest variations were in searches related to anxiety: 7 percent and 15 percent more common in winter than summer in the United States and Australia, respectively. The variations persisted after he researchers controlled for seasonal differences in Internet use, mentions of the diseases in news articles and other factors.
Why this happens, and whether it is connected to increased incidence, is unclear, but it is known that varying hours of daylight, variations in physical activity and seasonal changes in blood levels of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids can affect mood.