March 10, 2016 - The days are longer, and with clocks turned forward one hour on March 13th for daylight saving time, there’s more light in the evening too.
For people who may experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), increased light can shake away feelings of depression and enhance our mood. But we should be extra cautious during this change of season, says Dr. Robert Levitan, Senior Scientist in CAMH’s Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute.
“It’s a paradox that while people with SAD tend to do better as the days get longer, spring can be a difficult time for people with some mental heath conditions such as bipolar depression.”
They may still feel depressed, but have more energy and impulsivity, he says. “We call this a ‘mixed state,’ and it brings some increased risks for suicide.”
In spring, impulsivity may increase along with a person’s levels of 5H1AA, a metabolite of the biochemical serotonin, which is important to mood, Dr. Levitan says.
Therefore, as days grow longer, and spring is in the air, clinicians and family members should not let their guard down in caring for those with mental health problems. Some key points to consider:
Feelings of exclusion: Some people with mental illness may feel excluded as they see those around them become more active during spring-time
Sleep problems: Some people may have more trouble sleeping with the increase in daylight, and this may affect mental health
Suicide risk: Research shows that suicide rates generally peak in spring.
“Spring may actually be the worst time of year for some people,” notes Dr. Levitan, who treats people with various forms of depression and has conducted research on seasonal affective disorder and light therapy.
“A person who is vulnerable may need extra support or an adjustment to their medication or other treatments during this time,” he notes.
More than just the blues: In this video – Dr. Levitan looks at SAD and its apex, Blue Monday, describing seasonal depression commonly experienced in winter months.
Light therapy: In this research study. Dr. Levitan and colleagues found that bright light therapy was beneficial for general as well as seasonal depression.