Seasonal Affective Disorder deserves a separate conversation

After winter break, as temperatures drop and days become shorter, students often experience a parallel decline in spirits. Sometimes, it’s not just a case of “winter blues” — it’s a form of depression that needs to be addressed by students and professors alike.

According to Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression characterized by feelings of hopelessness, lethargy, oversleeping and increases in appetite and weight gain. The onset of SAD is triggered by a change in season, most commonly in late fall and early winter.

When I first learned about SAD in my grade eleven psychology class, the “winter blues” that I’d experienced every year of my adolescence finally started to make sense.

For many years, I thought I was being too sensitive, that it was all in my head. How could I be depressed some months and not others? Depression doesn’t work like that, right?

Without understanding why, I began to feel isolated from my friends and unmotivated to do the things I loved, and I couldn’t account for my uncharacteristic behaviour and low energy. 

Years later, the arrival of a frigid Canadian winter still weighs me down, and sometimes I still feel foolish for letting it affect me. 

But talking about SAD with my peers in that grade eleven classroom made me realize that my symptoms were common and easily conquerable.

I’m not alone — as a Canadian university student, I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

It can be a confusing condition, since conversations surrounding mental health focus on depression as a constant state — a student suffering from SAD may not understand why their symptoms are temporary. 

Moreover, a student coping with other mental illnesses and stressors may not understand why their condition worsens with the arrival of winter. Starting conversations on campus, in the classroom and beyond, can legitimize their feelings and help them cope.

If professors were to take a few minutes to discuss SAD at the beginning of their first winter term lectures, students could begin to identify symptoms in themselves and others, which would clear up some of the confusion surrounding this condition.

With this knowledge, professors can understand that for some students, extra encouragement may be required for them to perform to their usual standard.

Student leaders and employers need to acknowledge the widespread reach of SAD and offer extra support to their peers who are struggling to come into work or participate in class.

To anyone grappling with the confusing effects of SAD, winter feels icier in their minds than it does outside — and simply acknowledging this can go a long way.

Maureen is one of The Journal’s Assistant News Editors. She’s a third-year English major.

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