Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Is Your Mental Illness a Product of the Weather?

Yesterday in my neighborhood it felt like summer for the first time all year. It was as hot inside as outside. It was as hot in the shade as in the sun. I was dogged by lethargy and depression, and I thought, Oh, no - here we go again.

Of all the weather that I dread, summer is the worst. The heat and relentless glare bring out the worst in my bipolar condition. It generates high irritability, which is how mania expresses in me, leading sometimes to the irrational rages that fractured my relationships all through my 20s. Either that, or the heat oppresses me and makes me feel like there is no reason to move or act, ever again. I will spend most of the next few months pretty much a prisoner under my own roof, scuttling out occasionally for as few minutes as possible under a hat and heavy sunglasses.

Years ago, I read a book on Bipolar Disorder which claimed that hospital admissions go up in summertime, and I thought that made perfect sense. Heat makes people grumpy and touchy, emotions are too near the surface, and those of us with too many emotions to begin with fall over the edge, I theorized. After all, any cop can tell you that violence and homicide rates spike during a heat wave.

But it seems I am in the minority. A study has been published which shows that Google searches for mental illness information increase substantially across all major categories in winter, not summer. The study was published in the May issue of American Journal of Preventative Medicine, and extended to the United States and Australia for the period 2006 to 2010. It covered eating disorders, ADHD, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and suicide. Searches dropped in summer from a modest dip of 7% (anxiety) to a whopping decrease of  42% (eating disorders). While we have known for awhile now about Seasonal Affective Disorder and the bad effect the holidays can have, this winter increase is news to the world at large. Some hope that eventually it will give us clues to across the board treatments - such as, for instance, the use of vitamin D, which is a metabolite of sun exposure. But at this point any conclusions are many years and many more studies away.

This data may not mean what it appears to mean on the surface. My harebrained theory is that we are cooped up together more in winter, and we can’t help noticing any problem behavior that comes up. Then in summer we all run outside to play, where we get overheated, explode, and are booked into the hospital. Okay, maybe not. It sounded better in my head than it does on paper! But I just can’t help trying to fit in my personal experience, and that long-ago statistic about psychiatric admissions in summer.

What’s your theory?

Deborah is the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness, available at Amazon and other major vendors. Visit her web page at www.lafruche.net, or see her catalog at www.lastlaughproductions.net.