“Seasonal affective disorder has been described in the psychiatric literature for decades,” Azar said. “Depression can exacerbate underlying eating and anxiety disorders, so all are likely to be increased in the winter months.”
She said the results of the study could be used to encourage more screenings for mental illnesses during winter months.
One way to help reduce mental health issues during the winter is to make sure to get enough sun.
Azar suggested that 10 minutes of non-SPF sun exposure a few times a week would be sufficient to prevent vitamin D deficiency.
Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, the author of Set Free to Live Free: Breaking Through the 7 Lies Women Tell Themselves, said in an email that she’s noticed patients with eating disorders and other mental illnesses have an increase in their symptoms during the months from November through March.
“The severity of the symptoms seems to be in direct proportion to the amount of stress the person is under during those times,” Dalton-Smith said.
She said she sees the number of other patients with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety increase especially between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.
“These particular mental illnesses [are] often exacerbated during times of the year when there is a greater expectation of personal performance,” Dalton-Smith said.
“Many people try to live up to the images they have created for their lives, and the stress of trying to live up to unrealistic expectations become too great to bear, leading to alternative unhealthy coping mechanisms.”
She said the study demonstrates that even if people aren’t talking to others about their seasonal mental health issues, they are trying to get help via the Internet.
“They want help, but are often afraid of what others will think of them if their ‘secret’ is out; when in reality being open and honest about their struggles is the primary step in healing, and the one most needed to be conquered,” Dalton-Smith said.
She hopes that the study increases awareness of seasonal mental health issues and encourages people to speak up and get proper help.