Study: Seasonal affective disorder not real?

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A new study finds that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), depression that sets in with winter's shorter days, is not real.

The study states in part, “The idea of seasonal depression may be strongly rooted in folk psychology, but it is not supported by objective data.”

But many experts in the Seattle area, including at the University of Washington, are disputing the study’s findings.

>> Click here for the full study 

Some doctors believe that 30 percent of all people in the Seattle area suffer some form of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

“Winter depression is much more complicated than the simplistic model that is being proposed by the investigators ... who, by the way, did this study out of Alabama,” Dr. David Avery said.

Avery, one of the world’s top experts in SAD, told KIRO 7 that he believes the Auburn University study is flawed, especially for how it applies to people living in the Seattle area.

In February, KIRO 7 News talked to Avery about a type of light therapy called "Dawn Simulation" can improve mood, and reset and improve sleep/wake cycles, according to clinical studies. Click here to watch that report.

“Only about 16 percent of the sample was northern latitudes -- that was between latitude 42 and 45,” he said, “and I noted that, because of course Seattle's at 47 degrees latitude.”

Seattle’s days are significantly shorter, he explained.

They are also overcast, not clear and cold, but the study didn’t take into account cloud cover on the day of the interview.

“I’ve had many patients who did just fine in Chicago or Minneapolis, but when they came to Seattle, winter depression became a much more significant problem,” Avery said. “We obviously don’t have those clear, cold days, sun reflecting off the snow like it does in the Midwest and the East Coast.”

Avery also pointed out other issues, including that the study was conducted with single phone calls to randomly selected people who were not followed over time.

He also feared that people with very specific seasonal depression might have been lost in the data, since most depression is non-seasonal.

Resident Carrie Kovacevich said despite the study, she believes SAD is a reality in the Pacific Northwest.

“I think that one study just isn't sufficient to discount the existence of that,” she said.