Naturally, life begins to slow down in the winter. The days grow shorter and the temperature drops. We isolate ourselves by staying inside, huddled up in front of the television or staying in bed longer than usual. We lose touch with the outside world. But how do you know when those days are more than just winter blues?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression, is a unique form of depression that emerges during a change in season. SAD’s negative effects are less present in the spring and summer months; the fewer hours of daylight and colder weather during the winter create a chemical imbalance in the body to the point where our hormones take control and disturb our daily functions. Multiple studies have identified those with SAD to experience a rather significant decrease in serotonin, the neurotransmitter that controls mood, appetite, memory and energy. Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone, has also been linked to seasonal depression; it is produced at increased levels in the dark. Those rainy days where you feel like doing absolutely nothing but stay in bed — this explains why.
The American Psychiatric Association reported that about 5 percent of Americans are affected by SAD, usually consisting of adults ages 18-30 and more women than men. The longevity of it can ultimately make up 40 percent of a person’s year, more so if that person were to have significant stress.
This depression is not something to take lightly; it is important to be attentive as it holds great precedence over one’s well-being. It becomes especially important to watch for in an instance where it interrupts a person’s agency to act or perform daily functions. For those already diagnosed with a mental illness, such as major depression or bipolar disorder, they can experience symptoms of SAD to a much more alarming extent.
It is necessary to distinguish clinical depression from seasonal because although they have similar characteristics, SAD can be treated differently. This distinction sometimes makes it difficult to determine an official diagnosis. Mental Health America specifically suggests starting with bright light therapy or phototherapy. In more extreme cases, medication or even cognitive behavioral therapy may be needed. SAD-specific symptoms will usually be cravings for carbs, excessive sleepiness and weight gain. SAD symptoms that may also fall under regular depression could be guilt, loss of interest in activities, difficulty staying awake, extremes of mood and, in severe cases, suicidal thoughts.
While it is important to acknowledge the importance of treating depression, one should not confuse a bad day with a mental illness. Mental illnesses and the stigmas that surround it are intricate in that it can impact each person differently, and it is important to recognize what methods work for each person. You don’t want to oversleep to the point where it becomes unhealthy, yet getting enough sleep is important to maintaining mental health.
If you think you suffer from SAD or any emotional illness, you can contact your doctor or even the Counseling and Psychological Services here at Fordham to schedule a time to talk. The best thing to do is be honest about your feelings and take the time to navigate through the hard times. You can research the symptoms you’re experiencing and talk about it with friends, whether it is a case of SAD, a mere blip in the road or an issue on a grander scale. Even if you feel like none of it makes any sense, confronting the problem will benefit you in the long-run, and although these are invisible illnesses, this does not devalue the importance they have on your well-being. As college students struggling to keep up with work while also having a busy lifestyle in the city that never sleeps, we need all the help we can get.