Seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (aptly referred to as SAD) is a common form of depression that usually results from the shift in sunlight that one receives throughout the day during seasonal shifts and daylight saving time changes.
There are varying degrees of the disorder and it can manifest in altering one’s routine or chemical state. If college students find themselves feeling particularly blue during fall and winter, SAD may be to blame. In the rush of finals, internship applications and holiday travel, students may brush off their feelings of depression at this time of year, but they should know that SAD is a real and treatable condition, and there are resources available to help them.
The signs of seasonal affective disorder are not too different from the usual signs of depression, including feelings of misery, guilt, low self-esteem, helplessness and a loss of interest in activities.
New anxieties and tensions may crop up. Sleep problems are common, including a desire to oversleep, difficulty staying awake, disturbed or interrupted sleep and general feelings of lethargy and fatigue. Overeating, specifically a craving for starchy, sweet foods, is not uncommon, either. A loss of sex drive or a lack of interest in physical contact may also occur. If left untreated, SAD can sometimes lead to suicidal ideation.
There are some risk factors that one can take into account when preparing for the winter months and assessing the likelihood that one’s mood is more severe than just “the blues.” Interestingly, gender is a risk factor. SAD is diagnosed at a rate four times higher in women than in men, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Distance from the equator is also a factor; for example, 1 percent of people who live in Florida suffer from SAD, while 9 percent of people in New England suffer from it.
Family history is also important, as a lineage of depression or mood disorders can increase one’s chances of developing SAD. If someone has already been diagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder, SAD may just be a more extreme iteration of a previously diagnosed disorder. Age is also a determinant — SAD is more prevalent in those between the ages of 20 and 30.
It’s important to know how to treat SAD or even take preventative measures against an oncoming seasonal change. Medication, particularly anti-depressants, can assist with the absorption of serotonin, a protein that regulates feeling of happiness in the brain, and are commonly prescribed by a psychiatrist.
Talk therapy can also be helpful, as can light therapy, which simulates sunlight with blue light boxes. Consuming vitamin D, in the form of daily vitamins, is beneficial as well. Further, because seasonal depression is recurrent, some people who struggle with SAD prepare for the fall by increasing medication or speaking with a therapist more frequently in advance of a regression.
SAD is not just depressive disorder, and it’s not only restricted to the winter months. While less common, some people experience seasonal affective disorder in the spring and summer in the form of hyperactivity and manic episodes.
The end of daylight saving time Sunday may also have left some feeling a little depressed. The decrease in hours of sunlight may affect on people’s physical and mental health.
Students should be aware of the mood changes they may experience as a result of this time of year, and should not be afraid to seek out some help. Asking a friend to talk or seeking out counseling on campus is a great way to start, and wellness dog Professor Beau is always happy to help. For those looking for a peer to talk to, USC has a branch of Active Minds, a mental health awareness and advocacy group for students. Students looking to find help on campus in a more professional setting can call (213)-740-9355 or make an appointment online, and those in dire need of help should call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800)-273-8255 or call 911.
Feeling particularly bad in the fall and winter is nothing to be ashamed of, and there are are plenty of resources to treat seasonal depression.