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Magnetic therapy meets winter depression

Saturday, 23 January 2016

I was going to call this article Magnetic Therapy beats Winter Depression, but that might be pushing it.

A story has been making the rounds recently to the effect that Seasonal Affective Disorder - also known as SAD - is a myth. The latest story claims that the earlier research was flawed and that it was based on asking people to recall how they felt in previous years. To "refute" the established theory, the new researchers did not actually conduct a new survey: instead, they simply reviewed the results of an old one! According to the Daily Telegraph:

To test whether depressive symptoms got worse in the winter, the researchers examined data from a total of 34,294 participants ranging in age from 18 to 99 who took part in a phone survey about their health throughout 2006.

Participants were asked how many days in the previous two weeks they had experienced symptoms of depression. They then checked geographical location and sunlight exposure for each respondents.

The results showed no evidence that symptoms of depression were associated with any of the season-related measures. People who responded to the survey in the winter months, or at times of lower sunlight exposure, did not have noticeably higher levels of depressive symptoms than those who responded to the survey at other times.

Now, first of all, going back to a 2006 survey seems like a very strange way to research this question. And telephone surveys are notoriously unreliable - especially as there is no way to assure that the sample is truly random. But the fact that it says "ranging in age from 18 to 99" is also worrying. The 99 age limit is usually a limit imposed by software that limits the age field to 99. You even find this restriction on dating sites! And how many 99-year-olds did they question? For that matter how many 99-year-olds  should  the have questioned?  (Even if 99 is the new 70?)

Magnetic bracelets can help in a strange way

The fact of the matter is that unless they matched the age range in the survey with the proportional age range in the population, then their interpretation is worthless. This is one of the reasons why telephone polls are unreliable. Not everyone has equal time to (or readiness) to talk. So the results are skewed by the self-selection of those who have time to talk.

The article concludes that although people might be more depressed in the winter, it is not necessarily because of the shorter days or less light.

In short, the article - and the survey to which it referred- was a load of codswallop!

But the question is what can be done if SAD and winter depression are real? One treatment involves the use of bright lights resembling sunlight. This may work, but we can't be sitting around by such lights all the time. People have lives to lead and work to do after all.

But one method that can contribute to a positive effect is good old retail therapy. Another is having bright shiny objects, no more than an arms length away. And it is possible to combine the two by buying a magnetic bracelet.