SAD? Or just sad? :(
By Arroy (AJ) Jacob, Web Editor
It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)— also informally known as seasonal depression. But once you add the words ‘disorder’ or ‘depression’ into the sentence, suddenly you feel the urgency of the condition. However, SAD is commonly confused with the “winter blues,” two conditions common in January after the holiday cooldown. But distinguishing between the two can be harder than accepting you have one of the conditions to begin with, let alone doing something about it.
Canada’s subjection to the early onset of midnight-black 4 p.m. afternoons beginning mid-December and ending late March introduces SAD to two to three per cent of Canadians in their lifetime, where another fifteen per cent experience a milder, lesser form of depression known as the “winter blues” according to the Canadian Mental Health Association.
National Institute of Health: News in Health reports, “Shorter days seem to be a main trigger for SAD. Reduced sunlight in fall and winter can disrupt your body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm… Shortened daylight hours in winter can alter this natural rhythm and lead to SAD in certain people.”
People typically do not develop SAD or the winter blues during the holiday weeks specifically. But comparing this period to the new year winter darkness combined with the onslaught of returning responsibilities, it is simple to deduct why January is dubbed the most depressing month of the year.
Despite the similarities, it is important to return to their distinguishable symptoms. National Institute of Health: News in Health also says that the winter blues tend to include symptoms that only last up to two weeks. These symptoms may include: lower energy, sleeping troubles, tendency to overeat, and a mild lack of motivation. These symptoms relate to sadness.
But sadness is not equivalent to depression. People who suffer from SAD can experience more extreme symptoms for periods longer than two weeks. These symptoms include: severe social withdrawal, oversleeping, excessive lack of motivation, low libidos, large appetites for sugary and starchy foods, feelings of hopelessness, and sometimes, suicidal thoughts. These feelings and tendencies can easily transform into habits and become routinely present in people’s lives even after the sun returns from hibernation in the summer months. Catching onset symptoms of SAD is critical to creating effective treatment plans, something that one individual I spoke with tries to advocate for.
Esther Mandapalli, a General Science major at MRU offered to give her experience with SAD and the winter blues growing up in Calgary. She advocates to her friends and colleagues about the importance of mental health and how the winter season can negatively impact young people in more ways than one.
“You don’t know when you have the winter blues or seasonal depression. It can really be a gamble and it can really be scary when you find out.”
Mandapalli recalls a period of time where she had figured she was experiencing mild forms of the winter blues and what she did to prevent its evolution into SAD.
“The lack of sun and Vitamin D really messes you up, and I feel that people don’t talk about it enough. Over the winter break, after the finals rush, when you have nothing to do, there is a lull period of just… nothing! At first it felt nice, but that’s because you confuse it with relaxation.”
“Slowly, exhaustion swallows you whole. Then comes a lack of motivation. When I was feeling this way for a week and half, that’s when I spoke to my doctor and I’m glad I did. She helped me realize my symptoms early on and came up with a game plan. That’s why I really emphasize people to get help early on before it gets any worse.”
I asked Esther what “game plan” meant to her and her doctor. I was impressed to see how quickly she spun the situation into her own form of fun.
“It means making the most of your winter! You’re on holiday for a reason, right? To me, that looked like getting outside more during the day. Our bodies crave Vitamin D through sunlight and so it’s important to get it in the best ways possible.”
“With that comes more social interaction with friends, family, and support. I was lucky enough to not need light therapy (increasing your exposure to effective bright light) specifically, but I still highly recommend trying it if their doctor is good with it. And in terms of medication, Vitamin D supplements can be an underrated gamechanger. I couldn’t recommend it any more.”
SAD and the winter blues are currently rampant this month as the Winter 2024 semester gets underway. Understanding where your body might be mentally and emotionally however is what will keep you feeling less afraid of the words ‘disorder’ and ‘depression.’
If you or someone you know is in immediate distress, or is thinking about hurting themselves, call or text 9-8-8 for the Suicide Crisis Helpline.