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Living with seasonal affective disorder

Photo By: beforeyoubet.org


Carlie Bright, Lifestyles Editor

Although it has been a relatively mild winter in Erie, the “winter blues” are likely to still bring many people down. From getting dark at 5 o’clock to settling back into a routine after a few weeks at home, many of us feel the unsettling feeling of the long months of winter dwelling upon us.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression, is a subtype of depression or bipolar disorder that begins and ends around the same time every year, according to Mental Health America. This condition typically occurs when the seasons change, beginning in the fall and continuing through the winter months.

While the largest known cause is a lack of light, other causes remain prevalent as well. Your biological clock or circadian rhythm is disrupted by the decrease in sunlight associated with this time of year. But SAD is also brought on by a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical that affects your mood, which can trigger depression. According to Mayo Clinic, the change in the season can also decrease your body’s level of melatonin, thus affecting your sleep patterns and overall mood.

For college students, SAD is especially alarming. While only 5 percent of the overall U.S. population is affected by seasonal depression in a given year, the main age of onset is between 20 and 30 years old. And with Behrend being located in the northern part of the country, it falls into the category of being farther away from the equator than a large part of the country – an area where more cases of SAD are found.

While symptoms of seasonal depression are similar to those of other types of depression, a proper diagnosis can be made after two consecutive seasons of depression that begin and end around the same time both years. Some of the more common symptoms of SAD are a high craving for carbohydrates, increased appetite, excessive sleepiness, and weight gain, according to Mental Health America. Common depression symptoms associated with SAD include lack of interest in activities, misery, guilt, apathy, and lack of self-esteem. Anxiety, mood changes, sleep problems (lack of and/or excess sleep), and social discomfort.

However, this condition does not end with helplessness. In fact, symptoms can be diminished with something as simple as light therapy, which increases levels of melatonin in the body. Light therapy has been shown to be effective in up to 85 percent of diagnosed cases. Antidepressants can also be used in extreme cases.

But prevention measures are key to prepare yourself for the winter months. Consider beginning light therapy in early fall months in order to continue increasing amounts of light all winter long. Exercising more frequently, increasing amounts of light at home, meditation, and traveling to areas with more light have also been proven to prevent seasonal depression, according to Mental Health America.

If you currently find yourself with some or all of these symptoms of SAD, know that it is not too late to begin treatment either personally or with assistance from a counseling center such as the one right on campus. After all, beginning this semester with a good start will likely take you a long way to work away from seasonal depression.