Imagine the colors of summer starting to fade, signaling the cold gray winter is up ahead on the horizon. The air becomes crisp and heavy with sadness, and the streets empty without their usual noise. It’s the start of winter, and with that the familiar foe: seasonal depression. As daylight wanes, so does the mood, plunging many into a pit of emptiness and gloom. The fight against the winter blues begins afresh, an age-old battle against the darkness within.  

Do you have low energy? 
Lacking motivation? 
Changes in eating and sleeping habits?
Increased feelings of guilt or worthlessness?

These are symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Read onwards to learn more about seasonal depression, specifically focusing on its impact on students within the AISB community. 

What is Seasonal Depression?

There are many kinds of depression: Major Depressive Disorder, Persistent Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Postpartum Depression, and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Many people, including healthcare professionals, may not fully understand SAD. It is sometimes dismissed as simply the “winter blues” or a temporary bout of feeling down, rather than a legitimate form of depression that requires attention and treatment. Therefore we must promote the understanding of the disorders in order to ensure that those affected receive the appropriate care and support.

According to John Hopkins Medicine, SAD is a “type of depression that occurs during certain seasons, most commonly fall or winter, and is thought to be triggered by shorter days and less daylight.”

The research also found that SAD typically affects people during their adulthood and is more rare under the age of 20. According to The Wave Clinic, some explanations have linked this to changes that happen during puberty, particularly hormonal changes. Studies have also found that adolescent girls are more likely to show symptoms for SAD than boys.

Some of the causes of SAD, according to research, include getting less sun exposure due to shorter days, believed to trigger a chemical change in the brain. Melatonin, a hormone related to sleep, may also play a role, as its production increases in darkness. 

People with SAD may also have difficulty with overproduction of melatonin. According to National Library of Medicine melatonin is a “hormone produced by the pineal gland that responds to darkness by causing sleepiness. As winter days become darker, melatonin production increases and, in response, those with SAD feel sleepy and lethargic. Although melatonin likely plays a role in impacting the symptoms of SAD, it cannot by itself account for these phenomena.”

Symptoms:

There are two types of SAD: Fall-onset (winter depression) and Spring-onset (summer depression). Common symptoms include increased sleep, loss of interest in activities, social withdrawal, irritability, fatigue, weight gain, and physical problems like headaches.

Diagnosis:  

A complete mental health assessment and medical history taken by a psychiatrist or other mental health specialist are necessary for the diagnosis of SAD. Given its correlation with other illnesses like cancer and heart disease, early diagnosis and treatment are essential, as it may be a symptom of another underlying disease.

What does AISB think about SAD?

The Bite surveyed grades 6-12 on the topic of SAD and 28 students responded. From this data, we can see that there is not enough awareness about seasonal affective disorder. Forty percent of people had never even heard of the term; though after the term SAD was explained, nearly 35% of the respondents said they felt as though it affected them and 25% claimed it sort of affected them. 

Screenshot of The Bite‘s student survey on SAD.

And when asked if they feel like the AISB community helps during the darker months, nearly 60% of the students responded with no, and 54% of the students surveyed said they wish there was more awareness about seasonal depression.

I don’t really think that it’s a topic that is specifically addressed by the counselors, or staff. I do think that mental health support in general is offered to students, but I think more information on SAD would be useful, and perhaps some specific advice/support.”

Grade 12 student Marta R.

This tells us that there is still a lot more we can do to give advice and support. But our first step is to make sure everyone has heard of the term seasonal depression. 

Secondary counselor Scott Langston says he notices symptoms displayed which could be indicative of SAD especially during winter.

“I don’t know that it’s colder days,” Langston says, “but certainly darker days, and the two normally go together. And yes, it definitely is noticeable. Not only do you see a lot of kids but you see a lot of teachers [affected by the lack of sunlight]. You definitely feel it in January and February. You feel that people don’t have the normal enthusiasm and get up and go that they [usually] have.”

How can you feel less SAD?

During these dark winter times its hard to stay motivated and positive but there are ways to get help or feel better. Langston says that the first step is an awareness of our vitamin D intake.

Most of us can’t create our own vitamin D, so we need to be in the sun to get it, or we need to take vitamin D supplements. I personally take vitamin D supplements six months of the year, and I would recommend people to do that based on what I’ve read and the positives versus the very minor possible side effects. 

Secondary counselor Scott Langston

Langston recognizes that motivation is low during the winter so if you can, join a group, a gym, and get friends on board to hold you accountable. An important factor in getting help is talking to others and supporting each other.

After completing all our research we have come up with a helpful acronym and poster. So, next time you are feeling affected by seasonal affective disorder you can remember the acronym—ASET—to remind you of things you can do to feel better or help the people around you:

Feel free to download and print The Bite’s graphic above to help with SAD.

If you remember the acronym ASET when dealing with SAD you can overcome it and instead of trying to ignore it or being in a rut, we can work together to embrace it as a part of human nature and not let it affect our daily lives.

Let us know in the comments if you used the acronym, and how it helped you!