Depression worsened by frigid weather conditions

Henri Robbins | Staff Writer

Many students are beginning to feel a bit under the weather, and the weather is to blame.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), more commonly known as seasonal depression, is an issue that many students face. Although it can occur throughout the year, symptoms usually begin in the fall and winter seasons. Junior Josephine Sim, who faces both clinical and seasonal depression, feels that people do not understand the severity of the issue.

“Dealing with depression on a daily basis is obviously an issue, but seasonal depression is another thing, because it adds more pressure on an already-existing problem,” Sim said. “(Depression) is like I’m in a pool and I don’t know how to swim, and seasonal depression is the action of drowning.”

With this, there are lots of methods that people use to prevent depressive episodes. Certain tasks, such as cleaning or other small jobs around the house, tend to help junior Justin Rose.

“Something I would recommend for most people to do, especially if they deal with depression, is to make their bed in the morning,” Rose said. “It sounds super simple, but it’s something you can say that you did. You have this accomplishment that you did. Just do small little tasks, set goals. Make them super specific. Like, ‘I want to clean up my house’ is a no. Clean up your room or clean up a pile of laundry and say you did that in a day. Always leave tasks to do to just get your mind off of things.”

Rose was diagnosed in his freshman year after family and friends noticed a major shift in attitude and demeanor during the winter months.

“Around fall and winter, it just started to a little more difficult, but it got really bad freshman year because I switched out of my old school to Mason,” Rose said. “I went into darker places than normal. It was around that time that I actually talked to someone about it over text, and their parent read it and reported me to the school, and I actually got suspended for a wellness check, where I had to have a therapist write a note saying I’m okay to go to school and I’m not a danger to myself or anyone else. That’s when the whole process started.”

Even though SAD is very prominent, many people still do not see it as an issue. Psychologist Michaela Kramer said that it is fairly common, even if not everyone sees it.

“It’s certainly a real thing where your mood, energy level, and motivation take a dip – signs are similar to what we see with depression,” Kramer said. “Along with work not being completed as much, students also aren’t as social but are noticeably irritable.”

Even then, not all cases occur in the winter. Sophomore Arisu Yoshida suffers from episodes in the summer. Even though she focuses on work and her creative writing, the heat and lack of routine over break makes her more susceptible to depressive episodes.

“I feel like I’m in an oven,” Yoshida said. “It makes me completely useless at progressing with any of my creative works. I’m more inspired by winter. Funnily enough, I draw summer settings. Sunsets, beaches. I think of summer as the time of year where you take adventures, but I just spend it staying home and being sweaty.”

Because of the many different symptoms, SAD has many different treatments. While a great number of them are specifically for patients who suffer in the winter, there are also many that work year-round. Psychologist Jeff Schlaeger said that the treatments work to increase overall mood and productivity.

“There’s traditional counseling, but there’s also actually light therapy – technically called phototherapy, and it’s all about the Vitamin D from a special lamp,” Schlaeger said. “We had a staff member that retired who was a special educator who actually did phototherapy on the students.”

Depression isn’t just sadness, though. Yoshida said over the summer, she feels extreme unmotivation and finds herself unable to work on anything.

“You have to force yourself into a routine so that you don’t completely give up on everything,” Yoshida said. “If you say ‘this is a checklist, and if I complete everything then I did good today,’ that’s what keeps you going.”

Around four to six percent of people suffer from seasonal depression, and 10 to 20 percent suffer from mild SAD, according to American Family Physician. Sim said that, even with the awareness today, it can be hard for many students to realize they have an issue. She wants to see students reaching out and getting help, but recognizes that it can be something of a challenge for them.

“I definitely feel like some people who aren’t very aware or open to it, who don’t realize they actually have a problem, aren’t doing anything about it, and I feel like that needs to change because, well, depression sucks. It’s not something that people should just live with thinking it’s normal. It’s not something that you should try hiding. Even if it’s a personal thing, you should definitely seek help somewhere, because it’s not something that you want to constantly live with.”

Illustration by Henri Robbins.