Winter Blues

John Fortin and Jeremy Lathrop, Journalists




The winter season brings many gifts for us to enjoy for several months. The season offers snow to ski and make snowmen, cold weather for optimal hot cocoa-drinking, and beloved holidays such as Christmas and New Years. But this unique quarter of the year also brings something else: seasonal depression. Seasonal depression, also known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), is a type of depression that occurs during certain seasons of the year, most commonly during the winter months. According to the American Family Physician, about four to six percent of the population may have SAD, while around 10-20 percent of the population likely suffer from mild symptoms. Although a minority of people are affected by the disorder, a negative mood during certain seasons can affect everyone.

Symptoms of SAD include but are not limited to the following: increased sleep and drowsiness, social withdrawal, irritability and anxiety, and headaches. In addition to general SAD symptoms, there are several season-specific symptoms that occur during certain months. Those with fall and winter SAD tend to be high carbohydrate appetites and tiredness or low energy. Individuals with Spring and Summer SAD experience trouble sleeping (insomnia), weight loss, agitation or anxiety. One seasonal-driven cause of SAD is a change in an individual’s circadian rhythm. The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression. In addition, a change in serotonin levels due to environmental conditions plays a role in SAD. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, can be caused by reduced sunlight. This drop in mood-controlling chemicals is found to trigger depression. Thirdly, a change in melatonin levels can elicit SAD symptoms. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood. This is why those who suffer from SAD often have difficulty handling sleep schedules.

You might never notice it, but students everywhere including IHS are struggling with symptoms of SAD. After interviewing a student diagnosed with SAD, I was told “School is the worst part; I have no energy to do any work and my grades suffer.” Next I asked “what is your favorite season?” The student responded quickly, “spring, because it’s a good transition from colder to warmer days and I can feel my mood lifting in the spring.” This response not only surprised me but gave me a better insight at the idea of seasonal depression. In spring the summer is not far away and you can expect to go from dark days to longer light hours. Furthermore, the excitement of the final days of school and escaping to the freedom of the summer plays a role in the positive attitude that puts an end to winter depression. On the other hand during the peak of winter depression it can be hard to power through. The student made sure to suggest that for those struggling throughout the winter months “It is important to try not to isolate yourself and listen to your body. When you feel trapped, reach out.”

Those with seasonal depression may feel helpless, but there are many ways to combat the disorder. IHS guidance counselor Ms. Starrett was able to list several different methods she has seen used. For starters, she says you really have to “find the joy.” Although SAD may fog your perception, the great things about the winter season are still there! She says, “Getting outside is one of the most important things to do.” It’s very difficult to be making snow angels in the snow and not be happy. In addition, therapeutic lights are very effective at opposing SAD. These lights mimic outdoor light, allowing the individual under it to feel as though they were outside. The increase in vitamin D is extremely helpful, making your general mood increase. Lastly, social media is an amazing way to help fight the isolation and loneliness of SAD. Connecting with others who are experiencing SAD, or even those who aren’t, is very valuable. Social media allows you to gain helpful advice from others, a sense of connection with others, and distraction from negative emotions. 

Every individual is different but it is no secret that lower light absorption tends to have a negative effect on your emotions. Winter certainly has its benefits like skiing and snowboarding but depending  on the person this may not be enough. If you currently feel as though you may have SAD, you should reach out to someone trustworthy. For professional help, reach out to the crisis hotline by texting HOME to 741741.