From winter blues to summertime sadness, Seasonal Affective Disorder is the real deal

Seasonal Affective Disorder, perfectly acronymed as SAD or more commonly referred to as seasonal depression, has a lot of reasons to run rampant this year. Coming to the end of February, it’s not uncommon to experience some nice days, just above freezing, from time to time. However, all these days where it’s reaching 10 plus, and this past week’s scorching 18 degrees in some areas, are killing our brain’s ability to cope.

So how does this come to impact the typical university student? We have a lot on our plates at this time of the year. Winter brings a change in timetables and classes and new experiences, so throw in an unbalanced nervous system and a lot of people will be finding it hard to get things done like they wish they could. Although we have Reading Week to help us unwind and catch up on our assignments or recover from midterms, there’s a good chance you might have gotten hit with a cold and spent the week in bed watching Netflix.

Although many people say they are just feeling the typical winter blues, a select part of the population, only two to three per cent according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), suffer from the more serious and severe version. It is also not uncommon for people to feel the same way when the temperature picks back up, close to Summer, giving a whole new meaning to Lana Del Rey’s song “Summertime Sadness”.

CMHA believes that there is no legitimate cause for SAD, but can definitely link it to the changes in daylight and temperature. Since our biological, internal clock is radically shifted when Daylight Savings Time ends in November, our bodies have to be kicked into overdrive to try and deal with the lack of sunlight and warmth we’ve been so accustomed to.

Since it is so similar to other kinds of depression and even bipolar disorder, SAD has many of the same symptoms as other mental illnesses:

Change in appetite (craving for sweet or starchy foods), weight gain, decreased energy, tendency to oversleep, difficulty concentrating, irritability, avoidance of social situations, and feelings of anxiety and despair.

In the summer, there is almost a reversal of common symptoms, suggesting poor appetite, weight loss and trouble sleeping.

Because it is hard to differentiate from other mental health conditions, SAD is only often diagnosable after two consecutive (typically winter) season of the same issues, with no other reason for recurrence.

There are tons of things that you can do to help combat Seasonal Affective Disorder, including getting in some exercise and spending as much time in natural light as possible. Another remedy can be taking a little vacation to somewhere sunny and warm to thaw out the ice that’s formed on your bones. In more extreme cases, upon doctor recommendation, people can even spend time exposed to bright lights as part of light therapy regimes. CMHA also suggests that short term therapy and counseling may be a good idea during this time, or sometimes taking a mild antidepressant — only after consulting a medical professional and finding out if that is the best option for you, obviously.

This issue goes to show that the winter months can be gloomy for anyone, but there are some who are extra sensitive toward it. That being said it’s always good to be cautious and informed.

If you think you or someone you know is being affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder, have a talk to them and check out your resources. Visit ontario.cmha.ca for more information on mental health and SAD.

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