Seasonal Affective Disorder hits hard this time of year

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) more known as “seasonal depression” affects one in every twenty people in the United States each year.
“A decent amount of students and staff at RHS definitely have suffered from seasonal depression,” RHS social worker Maria Sutka said. “Since the students and staff have been getting ready and coming to the school in the dark, and a lot of the staff doesn’t leave until it’s dark outside, the no sunlight can really affect someone.”
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is depression that happens to a person only at a specific time of year. With SAD, a person becomes depressed in fall or winter, when days are shorter and it gets dark earlier. SAD is brought on by the brain’s response to the seasonal changes in daylight. When the daylight hours grow longer again, the depression lifts.
“So I just had a backslide in my mood a few weeks ago where I would sleep twelve to fourteen hours a day and I would still feel tired, I couldn’t go to work, it was even hard to go to school,” senior Brooke Mickel said. ”It was especially hard for me to talk to other people including my own mom and boyfriend and I had to really push myself in therapy and in my psychiatry appointment to where I made a routine for myself so I can start to feel better again and when the weather got better like back into the thirties and forties I started to feel a lot better like I only sleep like seven hours now and I’m feeling great.”
SAD or “seasonal depression”, affects the most people in the month of January when winter days are dark and cold with little end in sight.
There are signs for people to look out for, if you or someone you know feels that this is something you may have; it is always best to see your health provider.
Changes in mood can be a big sign to look for, SAD can cause someone’s mood to seem depressed, or irritable. They may cry or get upset easier than normal because SAD can make people feel hopeless, discouraged, or worthless.
A person can start to be more critical of themselves if they have SAD, they may find a lot more “problems” than usual and even start to blame, complain, or even find fault.
A lack of enjoyment is another big symptom of SAD, if someone starts to lose interest in something they normally like to do, also if they lose interest in going out and seeing friends if they had previously enjoyed it.
“During covid, I realized that I was more tired and I really had no motivation to do anything but then when summer hit I felt like I could start to do more things,” Mickel said. “Don’t get me wrong I still felt terrible but I mean it was not as bad as it was when it was cold outside and I literally could not leave my house or go out and see anyone.”
Being tired, feeling unmotivated, having little to no energy, or if it’s just taking a lot of energy to get up and do certain easy things that someone would typically experience.
A person’s sleep schedule changing is a sign of SAD. A person may sleep a lot more than normal but also may find it hard to get up and get ready for work or school early in the morning.
Just like any other depression, SAD can make it hard for a person to concentrate on their school work or just their job in general.
SAD can also result in weight gain. When a person has SAD they are more likely to crave simple carbohydrates, meaning sugary foods; because of this people tend to overeat.
Women are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with SAD than men, also people who have blood relatives who are diagnosed with SAD, someone who already has an ongoing depression or people diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, also people who live farther from the equator, and low levels of vitamin D, all of these things make it more likely to end up with it.
“People tend to fall off their usual schedules and it is really hard for them to get back to their normal,” Sutka said. “This last week with all the snow days and days off it’s gonna be harder than normal for a lot of students to get back to their normal.”
The reason why women are more likely to be diagnosed is because of a woman’s fluctuating estrogens which men don’t have so much of, according to Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones from the University of Utah.
The brain’s serotonin and melatonin levels usually regulate a person’s mood, so when those levels are off a person usually will not feel like themself.
There are also complications with SAD if not treated like social withdrawal, school or work problems, substance abuse, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts or behavior.
According to the Seasonal Affective Disorder article, SAD is caused by the season but it is because of the shorter daylight hours. Daylight affects two chemicals in the brain, melatonin, and serotonin, these chemicals are here to help regulate a person’s sleep schedule, their energy, and mood.
“School days are hard for some students at RHS,” Sutka said. “When the days are shorter the students tend to start oversleeping which affects tere attendance and it can also affect their grades, many students end up failing at least one class.”
Light therapy, is something that many doctors will use to help cure somebody with SAD. According to “Seasonal Affective Disorder” they will recommend a sun therapy light box’s that can go on a desk or table, they will recommend for a person to use this for 45 minutes a day; and in most cases it does help a person start to feel better within a week.
“Light therapy is something that has been recommended to me a few times but it can be pretty pricey,” Mickel said. “So, basically I use a sunrise alarm clock which mimics sunrise so I technically wake up to the sun rising in my room instead of a normal sound alarm clock because my condition prohibits me from waking up to sound.”
According to Dr. Parker Jones this therapy can decrease the amount of symptoms up to 85 percent in women who have SAD.
This therapy is also best used in the morning because it is to suppress melatonin. Most people will sit about two feet in front of the light box for 20 to 90 minutes while reading or even doing some work.
If someone is to feel that they are getting up later and later in the winter or fall seasons, using the light therapy will help reset your biological clock.
“I do have a sunlight lamp in my room that I let students sit by,” Sutka said. “I feel like it’s a great resource for the kids, and I do feel that is a big help for a lot of them to wake up before they need to go to class.”
Symptoms of SAD typically last between four to five months, usually the time of year where a person spends an extended amount of time inside without getting enough exposure to the sun.
When someone is either diagnosed with SAD or even if they just have signs of it, make sure they aren’t being isolated.
According to the article titled “Does Winter make you Depressed” by HillSide, people with SAD may not want to do anything but lay in their bed, it’s best to at least try and communicate and get them out to do things that won’t tire them out too much.
When a person is diagnosed the best thing for them to do is get exercise and try not to isolate themselves from doing the things that would typically be done.
“So when I started to isolate myself a few weeks ago my mom would not leave me alone even though I told her to,” Mickel said. “My mom had talked to my therapist and said that I haven’t been feeling too good and is there anything I could do for her. My therapist said to try not to leave her alone, keep talking to her even if she doesn’t want to talk about it and to make sure that she knows she is loved and that she is cared for even in this weather.” A regular exercise schedule during the entire year will help, in the summer and spring times people tend to get outside exercise, and then once the fall and winter seasons come they tend to get inside and continue their regular exercise schedule.
“Getting back on a normal schedule and doing what you once loved doing can help a lot,” Sutka said, “once you get a grasp on normalcy then usually everything else can follow.”
Most people with SAD tend to be between the ages of 15 and 55, as you age the risk of getting it will go down.
Approximately five percent of the total adult population has a severe case of SAD, and another 10-20 percent have mild cases. Three out of every four people diagnosed with SAD are female.
According to an article by the University of Michigan Health titled “Seasonal Affective Disorder”, exercise is one of the best ways to get your mind out of sleep and the “depression.”
According to an article titled “Do teens experience seasonal depression” many parents will confuse this with a teen just being moody or misbehaving.
The article mentions that if a teen is complaining about having these symptoms, especially being restless, or not being able to sleep, then they may need to seek out for medical help.