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Seasonal Affective Disorder: More Than Just Winter Blues

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Seasonal Affective Disorder: More Than Just Winter Blues

Jami Citko and Vicki Zhang

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Are you feeling sad? The winter months feel drab for multiple reasons: the holiday season ends, the weather is less than cheerful, and the only holidays we have afterwards are Valentine’s Day, which has passed, and St. Patrick’s Day, which isn’t exactly the most exciting. Another reason, however, might be attributed to a common mental condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder.  

According to Mayo Clinic, most cases of SAD begin in late fall or early winter and end during the sunnier days of spring and summer. Some symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD, sometimes called winter depression, may include, “oversleeping; appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates; weight gain; tiredness or low energy.” 

Just like any type of mental illness, SAD can affect anyone, including CHS students. 

“When moments of depression happen, you have a long period of just being extremely sad, crying for hours,” said one CHS junior* who suffers from the disorder. “The littlest things can set it off, even just another person saying a harmless joke or anything really.” 

The feelings experienced during depressive spells can have harmful effects on the daily lives of those afflicted, especially students. 

“Some days I don’t want to do anything and be alone during the week day,” expressed senior Grace Judge. “Panic attacks are triggered which can be difficult especially when I’m sitting in class. Sometimes it’s difficult to do school work because of my panic attacks.” 

SAD can also decrease the motivation, energy, and concentration of students, making it hard for them to accomplish things. 

“From my experience, seasonal depression is more a feeling of waking up in the morning and just not wanting to get out of bed. You feel kind of like anything you do doesn’t have a real purpose,” senior Mitchell Peters described.  

Some students with regular depression believe their symptoms get worse during the winter. 

“It’s much worse when you have winter with snow and still have a full day of school,” senior Hidaya Muhammadi stated. 

Many students don’t have the disorder but do understand why people go through it. 

“Even I sometimes don’t feel like doing anything because of the weather. I sympathize with those who have it,” senior Pho Bee explained. 

It is not uncommon for people without the disorder to experience symptoms of SAD, which are often considered the winter blues. Like most mental disorders, SAD becomes serious when its symptoms impede daily life. 

The causes of seasonal affective disorder are, like depression, related to a mixture of hereditary factors and decreased serotonin levels. However, it has also been linked to sunlight exposure, as it is “seven times more common in Washington state than in Florida,” says American Family Physician. 

Because of this, one of the treatments for SAD is light therapy, which involves sitting in front of a specially-designed light box for up to two hours every day. According to Tuck, the faux sunlight can improve circadian rhythms and melatonin production, which helps regulate the sleep cycle and, in turn, mood. 

According to How to Be a Redhead, those who possess the MCR1 gene, which causes red hair, pale skin, and freckles, may have a natural defense against SAD. “The mutations causing red hair and pale skin…help redheads absorb natural sunlight and produce vitamin D,” explains writer Christine Berton; “Redheads are thought to soak up rays easier, boosting and maintaining a bright mood. 

For those who aren’t naturally protected or don’t find light therapy to their taste, other treatments are available. However, they are for the most part the same treatments used to treat regular depression: antidepressant medication and therapy. 

There are also less-official methods of treatment that many have utilized. Medical News Today tells us that even just “opening blinds and curtains, trimming trees around the house, sitting closer to the window during daytime [and] getting out every day” can provide needed sunlight to those afflicted. Physical exercise has also been shown to help relieve symptoms. 

CHS students have their own methods of keeping themselves afloat long enough to get through the season. 

I tend to try and distract myself by doing word searches or listening to music that I can dance to,” Judge described. “In class, I close my eyes and take several deep breaths and think about the beach.” 

Distractions can do wonders for those trying to get through tough periods. Sometimes it’s all you can do to keep from falling into another pit. Having people around you who care about you can also be a huge asset. 

I cope with it by having good friends around,” the anonymous junior expressed. “Telling someone about it can really help, someone that will listen to your problems and will try to help you through it.” 

SAD can affect anyone, and during these times it’s more important than ever to stay educated on mental health. There’s a good chance that someone around you is affected. 

 

*this student did not feel comfortable disclosing his name 

Jami Citko, Staff

Living simultaneously in the world and in the Twilight Zone

Vicki Zhang, Staff

Hi I am a junior, and I like to dance. I really like food and chickens.

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Seasonal Affective Disorder: More Than Just Winter Blues