Seasonal depression is real

Morgan Dowler | Cartoonist

It’s the time of year when the days seem to be getting shorter, assignments are piling up and the call from your bed to lie down is getting louder. Many feel this way every fall semester, and there are three terms to put those feelings into words: seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the winter blues and breaks.

SAD is a type of major depressive disorder that changes with the seasons. While there is not a specific cause for SAD, different factors — including interference with circadian rhythms and serotonin levels, drops in melatonin and vitamin deficiency — have been seen to influence the onset of symptoms. Those symptoms may be overeating, sleep problems, feeling sluggish, low energy, difficulty concentrating and more.

The winter blues is known as a subsect of SAD, but is just as common. This is because a person must qualify for five out of the nine clinical symptoms consistently for two weeks before being officially diagnosed with SAD. However, it’s important to make clear that while these illnesses are very real, sometimes students just need a break. Needing a nap after class and catching yourself not eating one meal in the entire day are two separate entities that require different solutions.

SAD can be seen year-round, but it is most prevalent heading into the fall and winter season, as symptoms tend to break out and are known to affect 5% of adults in the U.S. for about 40% of the year. With college students specifically, tired and stressed behavior is often blamed on school and midterm season; however, it goes a little deeper than that. The day feels shorter, and it gets darker sooner, and your mood can go down with it. Paul Desan, director of the Winter Depression Research Clinic at the Yale School of Medicine, explains that your proximity to the equator can exaggerate the symptoms of SAD.

Although some can say that we have the holiday breaks to look forward to while in college, some may not realize the nervous twitch others get when the holidays are mentioned. While the holidays are typically a time spent together with loved ones, the colder weather creeping in causes a few people to stay inside and become isolated. Combined with the pressure that is attached to the holidays, SAD is not a surprising arrival for many people.

Even though the direct cause of SAD is unknown, there are multiple ways a person can seek out treatment. A popular option when treating SAD is light therapy. Since the lack of sunlight influences SAD, participating in light therapy for a minimum of 20 minutes can greatly improve one’s attitude. Another way to seek help is to establish a routine in sleep, activity and eating. Having this routine creates a balance in one’s life in multiple areas, which can decrease feelings of depression. Other treatments include medication, psychotherapy, meditation and check-ins with a doctor.

For Baylor students specifically, know that SAD and the winter blues are real and present on campus. The Baylor Counseling Center is open to help students who seek out their services. The cooler air, falling leaves and heavy jackets may make one feel dragged down, but there are many ways to combat that feeling and notice the good aspects of the season.