Spring makes depression worse?

Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song,
And while the young lambs bound
As to the tabor’s sound,
To me alone there came a thought of grief
William Wordsworth from 
Intimations of Immortality From 
Recollections of Early Childhood”

What an odd concept. I suppose I never noticed it before because I spent 30 years in sunny Southern California, and about 15 years in Arizona (where we did actually have four seasons-Warm, Hot, Really Hot, and Fucking Hot). I only knew when seasons changed when my mother was alive because we always went shopping in the month of changing seasons. She was from Philadelphia, and was raised (as was I) to be “correct.” You know, no white after Labor Day (except winter white), etc.

Once I lived in Arizona, I had no idea what season was what, so I never noticed if my depression changed. I’ve lived in Ohio for about 8 years now, and when the depression aspect of my bipolar disorder reared its ugly head, I never noticed what season it was. Yesterday I was at my therapist’s office, and she mentioned the connection between spring and increased depression. I didn’t understand that, so I came home and looked it up.

First I found an article on the BBC News website:  Reverse Sad: Why springtime can be bad for depression sufferers

Harvard psychiatrist John Sharp has done extensive research into the effects that the changing seasons have on our mental health and emotional well-being.

In his book, The Emotional Calendar, Sharp outlines how physical, psychological and sociocultural factors influence the way we feel.

“…as Dr Sharp points out, for those who suffer from depression, spring can have the opposite effect….

At the same time as most of us are rolling up our sleeves and spending more time outdoors, others struggle with trying to get into that kind of mode, and counter-intuitively, they feel worse.”

Dr. Sharp also mentions, that “…anniversaries of negative events….” can also increase depression. My parents’ 40th anniversary was March 21, then my mother died less than two weeks later, and her birthday was six days after her death. That time of year is incredibly difficult for me, even though it was 25 years ago. But one would think by this time I’d be fine, nope…it always seems like it just happened yesterday, although some years are worse than others.

The same article mentions “Nicolas Werner, a mental health worker from Hove in East Sussex….”

He was diagnosed with depression in 2001 and subsequently with bipolar disorder towards the end of last year.

“It is like the winter was an eider down or a duvet to hide underneath, but in the long summer hours or daylight hours I felt more exposed.”

What Werner suffers from is known as Reverse SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

Emer O’Neill, of charity Depression Alliance, acknowledges the seriousness of the condition.

She says: “Reverse SAD is rare but this has a lot to do with the fact that so little is written about it. It is not talked about so there are potentially many people out there who have the condition and have not been diagnosed.”

Another article, When Spring Brings You Down in Psychology Today, discusses the same issue of Reverse SAD.  Everybody else is out doing spring planting, playing, and generally enjoying the sunshine, but depression sufferers usually feel worse.

Rain or shine, some people find the weather depressing. A recent study led by researchers at Utrecht University looked at different patterns of mood in response to weather conditions. One group, dubbed Summer Haters, felt in a worse mood as the weather got warmer and sunnier. The researchers speculated that Summer Haters might be at risk for a condition sometimes referred to as reverse SAD.

Unfortunately, the very fact that spring is supposed to be a time of joy and renewal can highlight what’s missing for those who aren’t feeling that way. It’s the “I’m the only one not having fun on spring break” effect, and it’s bound to make someone who’s already down feel even worse.

If you’re in that group, there may be some comfort in knowing that you aren’t the only one. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you’re struggling. For some people, April showers bring not only May flowers, but also a trip to the therapist’s or a prescription for antidepressants.

Unfortunately, my antidepressant doesn’t seem to be helping right now. I’ve been on the same one for many years, and sometimes a drug’s effectiveness can just stop working. I’ve recently had a med change, but that seems to be worsening things. Trileptal is a seizure drug which has an off-label use as a mood stabilizer. My mania was getting worse, and I was becoming quite agitated, at the same time my depression was worsening; this is called a Mixed State (there are quite a few other names for it, but that’s the easiest to remember). Actually, most of the time I’m in a mixed state.

Bipolar disorder is a very difficult mental illness to treat, it’s extremely challenging to find that right med cocktail that will get one on an even keel. I’m yet to be there, usually at one extreme or the other.

Some people have asked me which I’d prefer. Really? What an odd question…that’s like asking do I prefer harming/killing myself or someone else? I don’t get those “happy” highs, I get agitated mania where I want to hurt others (since that’s not ok, I end up hurting myself, but it’s a different feeling than hurting myself when I’m depressed).

So here’s my answer to that idiotic question…neither, I want to be “normal,” whatever that is. I want to feel happiness without being giddy and doing stupid things, and I wouldn’t mind feeling sadness if it wasn’t so black and seemingly hopeless and unending.

2 thoughts on “Spring makes depression worse?

  1. “I want to be “normal,” whatever that is. I want to feel happiness without being giddy and doing stupid things, and I wouldn't mind feeling sadness if it wasn't so black and seemingly hopeless and unending. ”

    No truer words have been spoken. Heh, normal… I don't know what normal is, but I do know what I have isn't it.

    Hope you find some relief soon and your moods stabilize some. Good luck to you.


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