Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) might not be the only mental disorder that’s affected by the changing of seasons. A new research study suggests that many mental disorders could have peaks during the winter season.
The study, which is found in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, looks at the number of Google searches in the United States and Australia for all major mental illnesses, and the season when the queries occurred. The data showed that more Google searches happened during the winter than in the summer.
These results could suggest that more people suffer from mental illnesses or an increase in symptoms during the winter months than during summer months, based on searches for more information about mental illnesses during those months via Google.
Major mental illnesses considered in the study include anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder, ADHD, anorexia and depression.
Eating disorder (anorexia and bulimia) and schizophrenia queries were some of the more prevalent mental illnesses searched for during the winter (37 percent higher searches in winter than in summer for both). Anxiety was only searched for slightly more often during the winter than in the summer (7 percent higher in winter).
Experts add insight into the study and what it could actually mean in regards to addressing and treating mental illnesses.
Dr. Natalie Azar, an assistant clinical professor of medicine and rheumatology at NYU Langone Medical Center, said in an email that the method of tracking seasonality for mental illnesses could have been accomplished in other ways besides Google.
“I'm not sure the data is that robust when it's through Google searches,” Azar said. “Other ways to determine this might be increases in mental health visits, increase in prescribing practice for anti depressants, anti anxiety agents may also provide useful data.”
The study does note that the methods are not traditional, and because of that, it might be a better way of tracking patterns that otherwise wouldn’t have been noticeable.
She said although the study is interesting, the idea of seasonal differences in mental illnesses isn’t new.