Could There Be a Link Between SAD and OCD?
While it’s already well-known that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and depressive episodes are closely related, researchers have begun studying whether there is a link between the changing of the seasons and other mental health conditions.
According to a study conducted at Uskudar University in Turkey, the relationship between SAD and OCD may be closer than it may initially seem.
What Is SAD?
SAD is a condition that affects up to 5 percent of the global population and occurs mainly in areas that receive less sunlight in the cooler months. This lack of sunlight is thought to impact the body’s ability to produce endorphins and serotonin, which regulate mood, the sleep and wake cycle, and a variety of other natural body functions.
Those that suffer from SAD see the symptoms of depression creep up once the days begin to get shorter. This change in the weather can cause them to experience a variety of symptoms, including:
- Weight gain
- Loss of appetite
- Increased sleep
- Disinterest in usual activities
- And more
Many people who suffer from SAD see their symptoms begin or worsen with the onset of fall, and they begin to taper off as spring sets in and daylight hours increase.
For some SAD patients, bright light therapy practiced daily for at least 30 minutes a day can help decrease their symptoms and restore their body to its natural balance.
What Is OCD?
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a psychiatric condition in which the patient suffers from unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or urges – obsessions – that trigger distressing feelings. These obsessions often lead to behaviors and rituals the individual engages in in an effort to get rid of the obsessions or decrease their distress over the obsessions.
There is no cure for OCD, but it can be managed with a combination of behavioral therapy and medication.
What Is the Link Between OCD and SAD?
The researchers at Uskudar University surveyed 104 participants in Istanbul who had been diagnosed with OCD, and 125 people who had not. The participants completed a comprehensive questionnaire about their sensitivity to the changes in the seasons, including their sleep patterns and mood.
Those participants diagnosed with OCD also completed a questionnaire about their OCD symptoms.
The participants with OCD reported greater seasonal sensitivity, especially when surveyed during the colder months. They also were more likely to show signs of SAD, with 19 percent of the OCD patients showing signs compared to just 9 percent of non-OCD patients.
Additionally, those with OCD combined with SAD reported that their depressive symptoms and compulsions were more severe during the colder months and on days with less sunlight.
Based on the results of this study, the researchers determined there may be a link between the triggers in the brain that cause SAD and those that lead to OCD.
What Does This Mean for Patients?
Because this research suggests that sunlight may play a role in the severity of OCD symptoms, those OCD patients who are especially impacted by seasonal changes may benefit from bright light therapy during the colder months.
Sitting in front of a bright light therapy box for at least 30 minutes a day, every day, during the winter months can help the brain regulate serotonin and endorphin production. These two neurotransmitters can help better regulate sleep patterns, mood swings, and other biological functions, decreasing the severity of both OCD and SAD symptoms.
If you suffer from SAD or OCD – or both – and believe bright light therapy may be right for you, talk to your doctor before beginning the practice.
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