Winter is here, and it isn’t always the most “holly and jolly” time of year for everyone. Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) affects four to six percent of the population and mildly affects 10 to 20 percent, according to the American Family Physician (aafp. org).
“[It is a] depression that corresponds with a change in the seasons. It is commonly experienced during the winter months when there is less sunlight,” AP Psychology teacher Rebecca Whitney said.
Aafp.org said this disorder is more common the farther north people travel due to the lack of sunlight. This lack of sunlight affects the brain chemically, causing a depressed mood.
“The brain is exposed to less sunlight during the fall and winter months, which helps to stimulate melatonin; a hormone that impacts the production of a neurotransmitter called serotonin. A lack of serotonin in the brain is often a factor in the development of different types of depression,” Whitney said.
Roughly three million people in the U.S. are affected by S.A.D. according to Whitney.
“Teens through adults are affected and women more than men,” Whitney said.
Senior Grace Ryan was diagnosed with S.A.D. in September 2016 and it has affected her in serious ways both physically and mentally.
“My entire state of mind gets unmotivated when it gets colder and days get shorter. I find myself having darker thoughts the more the nights get longer. It’s like I’d rather be alone and quiet and have nothing to do than to go back to my normal state of loving when I’m busy. I normally always feel the need to get things done and make memories with friends and experience the world. But when it’s not warm out and I feel less sun on my skin, I like to crawl into my own little world where I can only feel comfortable with myself when I’m in a dark room not doing anything but watching Netflix or films,” Ryan said.
There is a misconception that seasonal depression is less severe than clinical depression due to it only being during certain months, but that is not the case.
“The symptoms are the same and the treatments are largely the same as well. Antidepressants are used for both since they increase serotonin levels in the brain if the depression is severe enough,” Whitney said. “There are some advocates of light therapy where those who suffer from S.A.D. use bright lights to help regulate their body clocks and treat their symptoms.”
The chemical imbalance in the brain is often aided with different antidepressants.
“I’ve been prescribed Zoloft from my doctor, and when I don’t take it daily, a lot of people notice my quick switch to an unhappy person. I just lose all positivity from my facial expressions or my posture. When I find something funny, my laughter becomes more dramatic,” Ryan said. “My medication definitely helps me bring light back into my eyes and guides my genuine, positive self back during the winter months.”
Symptoms of S.A.D. can include a change in appetite (Increased or decreased hunger), weight gain, a drop in energy level, a tendency to oversleep, fatigue, irritability, etc. according to aafp.org.
“I had multiple symptoms at a time when we found out I had severe seasonal depression (S.A.D.). Besides the isolation and no motivation and negativity, I also started binge eating. I gained so much weight going into the winter of my junior year; that was my darkest peak. My medication helps me kind of control my binge eating disorder but as soon as I fall off of the sequence of taking them, I go right back to eating until it hurts,” Ryan said.