Seasonal Affective Disorder and ABIs – is there a connection?


Is the holiday season really over for another year? Whether or not you celebrate, the holidays are pretty difficult to ignore, beginning with the first  appearance of decorations in early November followed by Christmas music on the radio and just about everywhere else. But by early January, the garlands, the red ribbons, the Christmas trees and the festive lights have all but disappeared.

So what does that leave us with? Dark long days and cold temperatures, with very little to look forward to until the first days of spring three months away. Is it any wonder that with the post–holiday let-down, people are inclined to feel sluggish, depressed and irritable? Even though the days have just begun to lengthen, April still seems a long way off.

photo credit: Smaku via photopin cc
photo credit: Smaku via photopin cc

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) takes its toll on many of us. Celia Missios offered sage advice on how to combat the symptoms in December. But what about SAD and ABI survivors? Are survivors inclined to feel the effects of the dark, cold days to an even greater degree because of their brain injury?

There has been very little research undertaken on the correlation between brain injury survivors and the effects of SAD. Despite this, Dr. Celeste Campbell, a Washington-based neuropsychologist, suggests that since mood disorders are the most frequent psychiatric illnesses for patients with an ABI, SAD could be more prevalent for brain injury survivors.

Surprisingly, there has been no research specifically linking seasonal affective disorder to brain injury. Only one article, a case study, linked the two conditions. It involved  a 45-year-old female patient suffering from SAD who had also suffered a brain injury many years earlier. During the winter, she was affected by bouts of depression while her summers were marked by periods of hypomania (increased excitability.)

The patient’s ABI had come about as a result of an arterial bleed on the right side of her brain when she was 17, resulting in partial paralysis of the left side. Nevertheless, after the birth of her first child at the age of 31, she suffered a second arterial bleed that ultimately led to more periods of depression. Medication brought some degree of improvement, but over the next four years, her symptoms worsened, characterized by variations in mood, energy, socialization and sleep according to the season. In this particular study, doctors were convinced that her mood swings resulting from SAD – particularly during the winter months – were aggravated by structural brain damage she had suffered many years earlier.

photo credit: fishwasher via photopin cc
photo credit: fishwasher via photopin cc

It should seem only natural that because those who have suffered brain injuries are particularly prone to mood disorders, they would be more likely to feel the effects of seasonal change. Yet only when more research on the subject is undertaken will we be provided with more definitive answers.

Do you think there is there a connection between ABI and seasonal affective disorder? Email us at or Tweet us @BraininjuryTO and tell us what you think!