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'Chiberia' Got You Down? Researchers Want to Hear from You

By Casey Cora | January 8, 2014 6:46am | Updated on January 8, 2014 1:07pm
 IIT researchers are conducting a study about why the wintertime blues get to some people but not others.
IIT researchers are conducting a study about why the wintertime blues get to some people but not others.
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Getty Images/Scott Olson

CHICAGO — Everyone around here knows the winter months can bring on cabin fever, a little stress and maybe a few pounds, all of which can turn into a bout of seasonal depression.

But not everyone is susceptible to the winter blues.

Illinois Institute of Technology researcher Katherine Meyers and professor Michael Young are looking to find out why, and they’re looking for everyday Chicagoans to help them.

"A lot of people experience vegetative changes in the wintertime, like feeling more tired or hungry or having carbohydrate cravings. What we're trying to understand is how some people go on to get very depressed and others can function in the winter," said Meyers, a clinical psychology student who's made the study her doctoral dissertation.

And surprise, surprise: The polar vortex that put the city in a deep freeze this week probably isn't helping people feel their happiest.

"What we think is that whenever you're vulnerable to depression, any extra stress can make it worse. Obviously all the snow and trying to to work and bundling up and all the stress that adds to our schedules can make depression a lot worse for people," Meyers said. "And it can be isolating if you're not interacting."

The ongoing study is far from the first to be done on the subject of seasonal depression, but this one has a first-of-its-kind twist.

Instead of asking study subjects to visit a clinician's office — perhaps months after winter is over — Meyers and Young, her dissertation adviser, will use smartphones to ask questions geared toward an individual's response to depression-related symptoms, then collect answers in real time throughout the winter.

"It’s the response to those symptoms that makes you feel better or worse in the winter," Meyers said.

Then, when it’s finally spring time — glorious, sunny, flowers-in-bloom, "play ball!" springtime — researchers will contact the participants over email for some follow-up questions and wrap it all up.

Meyers said the goal is "to raise awareness that [seasonal depression] is a serious issue and ... understand more about it to help treat it."

Already, about 25 people have participated, but Meyers said there is room for many more.

"We don’t analyze data until it’s all collected, but I can tell you that the responses I've gotten from participants has been positive in that they've learned a lot about themselves and contributed to a knowledge base to help treat seasonal depression," she said.

Interested in participating? Contact Meyers and Young at this email address: tafs.iit@gmail.com