A person looks out of a window at a dark, snowy sky. Seasonal Affective Disorder is most common during the winter months when sunlight is limited. Illustration by Everette Cogswell.  

Seasonal depression isn’t just some trend to subscribe to as you please, it is a real disorder called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of depression triggered by the changing of the seasons, most common during the fall and winter months and that affects more than 10 million Americans. “Specifically in a place like the Pacific Northwest, Seasonal Affective Disorder is triggered by the absence of ultraviolet light,” explains Greg Garcia, AP Psychology and History teacher at Franklin. The decrease in sunlight during the winter months reduces levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates mood, and thus disrupts the body’s infradian rhythm, causing a change in a person’s long term mood. Society can not continue to dismiss SAD as “winter blues” that you tough out on your own. 

Charlotte Storrs (11), co-president of Franklin’s Mental Health Club, says, “I see everyone around me struggling with their mental health during the winter months one way or another.” Garcia adds, “The winter months, especially the 3rd quarter of the school year, is always a difficult time for educators like myself due to the end of the semester and the demands of the fast-paced AP curriculum.” It is important to get help whether you are struggling with SAD specifically, or stress from school. Conversing with peers about mental health can be a great coping mechanism. Storrs shares, “The mental health club is a resource for Franklin students. It is a safe space for students to talk about mental health without judgment.” Although you might not be gaining the specific help you need, knowing that someone is there to listen reminds people that they are not alone. Gena Roe (12), co-president of Franklin’s Mental Health Club, explains, “having someone to talk to when you are struggling with something like Seasonal Affective Disorder makes it less scary.” 

For SAD, common symptoms include lethargy, oversleeping, and carbohydrate cravings or overeating. Experiencing these symptoms once in a while is normal, but if they persist for more than a week, SAD might be the cause. 

To effectively combat any form of depression, including SAD, you must actively manage the psychological, biological, and social factors in your life. One psychological strategy is building positive thought patterns. Garcia shares that when he gets emotionally exhausted, he looks through letters and thank you notes from students he has saved from over the years. He explains that, “consciously choosing to look at that positive feedback helps me build positive thought patterns.” Garcia advises those struggling with SAD to “integrate activities that bring you joy into your daily routine.” Doing so can help raise dopamine levels and stabilize serotonin levels. Garcia introduces fun community-building activities in his classes, for example: in addition to in class opportunities like a t-shirt design project and a TV commercial design project, Garcia is bringing his APUSH students to be panelists at comic con. But that is only one piece of the puzzle. Garcia states, “A lot of people assume that if you’re depressed you just need to think positively. Although building positive thought patterns is helpful, if you are suffering from a significant mental health disorder like SAD, you need to address the biological and social factors in your life as well.” Biological strategies include taking vitamin supplements or purchasing a light therapy lamp, which shines ultraviolet light at a specific frequency, and helps counteract the lack of sunlight during the winter. Additionally, there are medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, that can be prescribed by a licensed psychiatrist to help someone suffering from SAD. 

A lot of times those struggling with SAD will distract themselves with extra work or activities to ignore their symptoms. Storrs reflects, “I throw myself into an exhausting, busy schedule to try and push through. And I do push through, but I don’t take enough time for self care and self reflection.” It is important to find balance in your life, learning when you should push through and when to pull back. SAD is a real disorder that must be acknowledged and treated, not ignored or dismissed. When you are struggling with SAD, some possible avenues are to listen to your body, get help, and employ psychosocial-biological-social strategies to manage your symptoms. 

%d bloggers like this: