Seasonal depression is pretty self-explanatory, but like all mental health issues, it’s not that simple. Seasonal depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (ironically acronymed as SAD) is not just “feeling blue,” it’s having a change in mood and behavior for prolonged amounts of time. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) states that it is a chemical imbalance linked with the changes of the season that knock people off their circadian rhythm and daily schedule.
These changes in behavior and mood can affect thoughts, emotions, and daily life. In many cases of seasonal depression, it occurs during autumn and winter, and this is called winter-pattern SAD. In less common cases, seasonal depression occurs during the warmer seasons and is called summer-pattern SAD. For winter-pattern SAD, the symptoms, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, are oversleeping, overeating, weight gain, and social withdrawal. For summer-pattern SAD, the symptoms are trouble sleeping (insomnia), poor appetite, weight loss, restlessness, agitation, anxiety, and episodes of violent behavior.
So, who is affected by SAD? In America, millions of people live with SAD, and some don’t even realize they live with it. It is more common amongst women than men and affects people farther away from the equator than those closer to it. The reason is that since the equator gets a lot of sun year-round, there isn’t a lack of sun causing depression. But living near the equator does not bode well for people with summer SAD. Seasonal depression can also run in the family. The National Institute of Mental Health says it is more common with people who have family members that have been diagnosed with major depression.
But don’t worry, there are ways to help combat SAD. There is light therapy which allows for a person to experience bright light that mimics natural lighting. There is psychotherapy, the therapy many are familiar with where you talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Or there are standard antidepressant medications if symptoms are serious. But not everyone can afford medication or therapy, so there are exercises one can do to lessen the effects of seasonal depression. Some exercises focus on the mind and body like meditation, yoga, or tai chi, which can really help. Dr. Solomon, Oakland Mills’ very own school psychologist, says being physically active is one way to prevent emotional difficulties. Also having connection or “knowing who your go-to people are,” as well as sleeping well, especially as teens when we need the most sleep.
But always remember, it is OK to not feel OK. If you are feeling any of the symptoms mentioned in the article, talk to someone, reach out. You do not have to be alone in whatever you are experiencing. Big shoutout to Dr. Solomon for his advice to help students!