Seasonal Changes: Bipolar and Other Mood Disorders

Tuesday, March 27, 2018 | By JP Emerald Coast

Between March and April, amid the intermittent periods of rain and sun, people with a propensity for Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD) begin to break from their winter melancholic patterns and experience an increase in energy and positivity. Often, mood disorders like Bipolar I and II follow a seasonal and cyclical pattern, experiencing a more severe response to seasonal changes, temperature fluctuation, and photoperiods, or the physiological reactions to the length of day versus night.

The cause of bipolar is unknown, but genetic predisposition and the stress or traumatic events are believed to be responsible for the manic-depressive cycle with which bipolar and those with other mood disorders struggle. There are researchers who theorize that bipolar is the result of a malfunction in the processing of light, which is why seasonal patterns appear as to the nature and predictability of mania and depressive symptoms.

Types of Mood Disorders: Depression and Bipolar Disorder

It is important to define the disorders, terms, and symptoms associated with each state. Mood disorders are clinical depression and bipolar disorder (I,II, and cyclothymia). Some personality disorders like schizophrenia may follow similar seasonal patterns but require a different method of treatment for remission.


Usually, but not exclusively, associated with bipolar disorder, mania is part of the spectrum of normal human experience. However, those that suffer from Bipolar Disorder in any form experience manic symptoms that can last for extended periods and lead to serious and unintended consequences. A manic episode is associated with an elevated mood, decreased need or inability to sleep, irrationality, distractibility, impulsivity, and reckless behavior in regard to sexuality, finances, and dangerous physical activity. In some cases, psychosis can occur and the individual can experience grandiosity, delusional beliefs, and the development of a disconnection from reality. Hypomania is a reduced experience of many of these symptoms, without the likelihood for psychosis or delusional thinking.


Depression can manifest in several different ways, for environmental reasons or due to chemical imbalances. Everyone experiences depression on some level at various periods throughout their lives. However, those with clinical depression develop prolonged and intensified symptoms. Depression can cause a lack of interest in life, fatigue, decreased libido, increase or decrease in appetite, weight loss or weight gain, excessive sleep, a slowed experience of everyday life, intense sadness, and a melancholic view regarding experiences and activities that once brought pleasure. In extreme cases, intense apathy and even thoughts of suicide can occur. If you or a loved one experience thoughts of suicide or self-harm, call 911 or your nearest hospital and schedule an immediate assessment for acute psychiatric care.

An Anecdote on Bipolar and Recovery

It has been apparent for centuries that seasonal changes stir the ethers and stimulate drastic changes in those with a propensity for mental health issues. Having spoken with one sober and medicated bipolar patient, this author was told of a feeling of intense pleasure that occurs on the years’ first sunny day as the seasons transition from winter to spring. This person recalled his first manic episode, which occurred in high school, stating that he had always been prone to intensity of moods, had seen psychiatrists since early childhood, and at times felt out of control. But this was the first time in his then 16 years that he experienced the euphoric, yet destructive, outburst of intense clinical mania. He remembers experiencing several sleepless days and a driven yet distracted productivity, working on several personal and school projects through the night. The crash came a few days later, wherein he became depressed.

This is an example of what is called Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder. It included the cycling from severe depression at the onset of winter and its shortened days to bursts of reckless mania in the spring and summer until entering a cycle of medication resistance, hospitalization, and ultimately the acceptance of the nature of bipolar disorder and a commitment to medication compliance. He has now been medicated for five years and experiences excitability within the manic-depressive scale’s normal range. His doctor has declared him to be in remission from his bipolar disorder. Medication and a commitment to understanding his illness have allowed him to lead a highly successful life, both professionally and socially.

Although this is merely anecdotal evidence, this person’s story is not an outlier. Recovery, remission, and normalcy are all possible for those who struggle with mood disorders, whether they lie on the bipolar or unipolar spectrum. It has been said that, of all mental health complications that can be experienced, mood disorders are the most treatable and responsive to therapy and medication.

Sunlight, Seasonal Changes, and Bipolar

One of the reasons for the strong shifts in mood and energy at the onset of seasons is that sunlight plays a large role in mental health, particularly among those with mood disorders. Those prone to depression might be aware of the benefits of sunlight exposure or bright light therapy with a light box. This works well for depression and autumn SAD symptoms, but those with bipolar I or II should be careful and consult with their doctor when considering light therapy. One study showed that “(hypo)manic episodes were significantly more sensitive to photoperiod variation.”

In the fall, individuals with mood disorders tend to fall into a depressive state while in the spring, usually around March or April, people begin to feel elated, energized, and bipolar can begin to experience mania or hypomania. Numerous studies have indicated that “sunlight intensity is positively correlated with the number of mania admissions and negatively correlated with bipolar depression admissions” to psychiatric hospitals.

During these uncomfortable and difficult states, those with mood disorders—whether in an “up” or “down” phase—may be admitted to a psychiatric hospital for stabilization. Medication compliance is a difficult commitment and often takes several attempts to find the right pharmaceuticals and their appropriate dosages.

Bipolar and Substance Abuse

Often, substance abuse is prevalent in those with bipolar or unipolar mood disorders. This is what is known as a co-occurring disorder. Addiction and mental health issues must both be addressed simultaneously for recovery. Fortunately, there are dual diagnosis facilities that specialize in treating the range of co-occurring issues that can accompany mental health and addiction complications. When seeking treatment for addiction and mental health it is important to clarify your needs and what the facility has to offer. Call today for a free consultation and recommendation to the best available facility for you or your loved one’s specific needs.

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