Self-reported mental distress under the shifting daylight in the high north

V Hansen, E Lund, T Smith-Sivertsen
Psychological Medicine 1998, 28 (2): 447-52

BACKGROUND: The validity of the concept of seasonal affective disorder and the causal link to lack of daylight in winter is controversial. There is a need for investigations in large samples of the general population at different latitudes and within general research contexts to avoid selective response bias and sensitization of the population.

METHODS: During a study of health effects of the air pollution from Russia in a small community at 70 degrees north, a self-administered questionnaire was filled in by 3736 inhabitants, 60.8% of the total population between 18 and 69 years. Three questions concerned depression, sleeping problems and other problems related to the two contrasting seasons with regard to daylight.

RESULTS: Twenty-seven per cent reported to have some kind of problem in the dark period. Most frequently reported were sleeping problems during winter, in 19.9% of women and 11.2% of men. Self-reported depression in winter was found in 11.1% of women and 4.8%% of men. Sleeping problems increased with age, while depression was most often reported by middle-aged people. The only other reported problem in winter was fatigue. The adjusted relative risk (RR) for winter depression in women compared to men was 2.5 (95% confidence interval: 1.9-3.2). Very few had problems in summer.

CONCLUSIONS: In the high north, one-third of the women and one-fifth of the men experience problems with sleep, mood or energy related to season. The prevalence of self-reported depression was surprisingly low in winter considering the lack of daylight.

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