Epidemiology and socioeconomic impact of seasonal affective disorder in Austria

Eur Psychiatry. 2016 Feb;32:28-33. doi: 10.1016/j.eurpsy.2015.11.001. Epub 2016 Jan 21.


Background: Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a subtype of recurrent depressive or bipolar disorder that is characterized by regular onset and remission of affective episodes at the same time of the year. The aim of the present study was to provide epidemiological data and data on the socioeconomic impact of SAD in the general population of Austria.

Methods: We conducted a computer-assisted telephone interview in 910 randomly selected subjects (577 females and 333 males) using the Seasonal Health Questionnaire (SHQ), the Seasonal Pattern Assessment Questionnaire (SPAQ), and the Sheehan Disability Scale (SDS). Telephone numbers were randomly drawn from all Austrian telephone books and transformed using the random last digits method. The last birthday method was employed to choose the target person for the interviews.

Results: Out of our subjects, 2.5% fulfilled criteria for the seasonal pattern specifier according to DSM-5 and 2.4% (95% CI=1.4-3.5%) were diagnosed with SAD. When applying the ICD-10 criteria 1.9% (95% CI=0.9-2.8%) fulfilled SAD diagnostic criteria. The prevalence of fall-winter depression according to the Kasper-Rosenthal criteria was determined to be 3.5%. The criteria was fulfilled by 15.1% for subsyndromal SAD (s-SAD). We did not find any statistically significant gender differences in prevalence rates. When using the DSM-5 as a gold standard for the diagnosis of SAD, diagnosis derived from the SPAQ yielded a sensitivity of 31.8% and a specificity of 97.2%. Subjects with SAD had significantly higher scores on the SDS and higher rates of sick leave and days with reduced productivity than healthy subjects.

Conclusions: Prevalence estimates for SAD with the SHQ are lower than with the SPAQ. Our data are indicative of the substantial burden of disease and the socioeconomic impact of SAD. This epidemiological data shows a lack of gender differences in SAD prevalence. The higher rates of females in clinical SAD samples might, at least in part, be explained by lower help seeking behaviour in males.

Keywords: Burden of disease; Epidemiology; Fall-winter depression; Prevalence; Seasonal affective disorder; Socioeconomic impact.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Austria / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • International Classification of Diseases
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder* / diagnosis
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder* / epidemiology
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder* / psychology
  • Seasons
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires