United Kingdom

Seasonal depression is more common in women than men

February 2018

Women are more likely than men to feel depressed during the winter months’ colder temperatures and shorter days, according to research by Glasgow University.

The research into depression and seasonal changes found a link between women’s low moods and the bleak winter months, where the weather is more variable and the temperatures are colder, wrote HealthInsuranceDaily.com.

Its findings were published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, in which it reported that these seasonal mood changes “appear to be independent of social and lifestyle factors, such as smoking, alcohol use and physical activity”.

The findings showed that patients with a history of depression experience more symptoms during winter, resulting in a rise in prescriptions of antidepressants.

Charles Alberts, a senior consultant at Aon Employee Benefits, explained that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a recognised mental health condition, a form of depression, that the NHS estimates affects approximately one in 15 people in the UK between September and April each year.

More than 150,000 UK Biobank participants - a group of volunteers among the population who provide health and well-being information to approved researchers - took part in the Glasgow University study.

Daniel Smith, professor of psychiatry at the University, said: “Clinicians should be aware of these population-level sex differences in seasonal mood variation, to aid the recognition and treatment of depressive symptoms across the calendar year.”

Alberts conceded that the University’s research is “a useful reminder of the impact that external factors can have on our mental health”, for example a low mood.

He said: “It adds to our understanding of the condition, in that there could be differences in the prevalence between women and men. But each workplace is different and we encourage employers to take a deeper look at their own healthcare data to identify differences and trends, providing focus and purpose behind any interventions.”

He cited the “Blue Monday” campaign which aims to raise mental health awareness, and refers to what has commonly become known as the third Monday in January as the most depressing day of the year.

He said: “Whilst campaigns such as ‘Blue Monday’ have come under the spotlight recently, its critics stating that it trivialises mental health, we also should not underestimate the value of raising awareness. It can help employees to take more proactive action before the condition gets worse, through self-help or reaching out for professional help.”

He noted that SAD can have a serious impact on individuals and the workplace. “People experience SAD to varying degrees, from mild to severe, where some people suffer so badly that it becomes disabling, struggling to function without treatment. The impact on wellbeing goes beyond our mental health, some people may turn to stimulants such as alcohol or smoking to try and numb the symptoms,” he explained.

He highlighted the importance for employers to provide access to benefits such as Employee Assistance Programmes and Private Medical Insurance to help employees with more severe symptoms, and also to raise awareness and give employees tips on how to self-manage the condition.

Alberts said: “There are useful practical tips available from healthcare providers that make it easier for employers to incorporate these into their wellbeing strategy.”


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