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Women more likely to get depressive symptoms in winter months than men

Study finds low mood and tiredness peak more in shorter days

The seasonal changes in women’s moods appear to be independent of social and lifestyle factors. Photo: Shutterstock.com

The seasonal changes in women’s moods appear to be independent of social and lifestyle factors. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Women experience seasonal changes in their mood throughout the year, with more depressive symptoms in winter, researchers have found.

The changes, which are more pronounced in women than men, appear to be independent of social and lifestyle factors, such as smoking, alcohol use and physical activity, according to a study.

A report by the University of Glasgow’s institute of health and well-being showed low mood, tiredness and anhedonia – the inability to experience pleasure from enjoyable activities – peaked in winter months among women.

The research – published in the Journal of Affective Disorders – found a relationship between shorter days and greater depressive symptoms among women.

Clearly, this is a complex but important area which requires further study

However, they say it may be explained by variations in outdoor temperatures.

Daniel Smith, professor of psychiatry, said: “This very large, population-based study provides evidence of seasonal variations in depressive symptoms which appear to be more pronounced in women than in men.”

A condition, previously referred to as seasonal affective disorder, affects up to three per cent of the general population.

It is also more common in patients with a history of major depression to experience more symptoms during winter, with new prescriptions of antidepressants also rising.

Analysis of the data of more than 150,000 UK Biobank participants was assessed for evidence of seasonal variation.

Researchers scored for “total depressive symptoms” plus symptoms of low mood, anhedonia, tenseness and tiredness.

Associations between the symptoms, day length and average outdoor temperatures were also assessed.

Smith added: “We don’t yet fully understand why this should be the case but it was interesting that the changes were independent of social and lifestyle factors, perhaps suggesting a sex-specific biological mechanism. Clearly, this is a complex but important area which requires further study. 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.”

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