SAD, also known as seasonal affective disorder or seasonal depression is something that is slowly creeping up on many as we enter these colder months. Seasonal affective disorder is a mood disorder that is indicated by depression or similar symptoms that arise at the same time each year. The exact cause of seasonal affective disorder has not been fully understood yet but due to the pattern in the time of year when seasonal affective disorder becomes more prevalent, it is linked to the change of seasons. One cause that has been looked into is sunlight levels. Seasonal depression usually begins to occur as darker days approach in the winter due to the reduced levels of sunlight. This disruption in the levels of sunlight can affect the body's circadian rhythm, our internal clock that naturally regulates physical, mental, and behavioral changes based on a 24-hour day.
Not only does this disruption disrupt your body clock leaving one feeling fatigued, but it can also cause the body to react in different ways causing overproduction or underproduction of hormones. During this time the body can begin to overproduce melatonin, a hormone that causes one to feel sleepy and tired and is generally released before it is time to sleep. At the same time, an underproduction of serotonin can make the symptoms worse. Serotonin, a hormone that helps regulate behavior and is often associated with feelings of happiness, and intake of natural sunlight have a direct relation. When the body is exposed to less sun the body in turn produces less serotonin, leading to symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.
There is still no definitive way of differentiating seasonal affective disorder from depression. As the signs and symptoms show the same between seasonal affective disorder and depression the only way to tell is with time. Seasonal affective disorder shows repeating patterns of feelings of sadness, fatigue, depressed mood, or drowsiness during the same time every year. Whether it be seasonal affective disorder or depression there are many ways in which it can be treated. The usual approach to seasonal affective disorder or depression tends to be a combination of anti-depression medications and therapy. Other methods such as light therapy and vitamin D supplements can also be utilized although not enough research has been completed as to whether they are truly effective or provide the user with a placebo effect, which is when a person's health positively improves after taking a harmless pill, medicine, or procedure prescribed for a psychological effect.
But many people don’t have access to proper treatment due to a variety of reasons, one big one being the stigma surrounding seasonal affective disorder, depression, and mental health as a whole. One can be reluctant even when given the opportunity due to the stigma they form in their own heads. Many are reluctant to get help as they don’t want to be labeled with a mental illness. But getting help is much more than a label. Getting proper help can allow you to identify what is happening and treat it in an efficient manner for a smoother life. To break the stigma in society, openly talk about mental health and share positive information. Social media is the reason behind many mental health disorders but if utilized properly it can be a great tool to reach millions of people alike. Use your platform to educate yourself and more importantly yourself. Respond to misinformation and negative comments of others and recognize inaccurate thoughts within yourself.
While breaking the stigma, and helping those struggling with mental health disorders around you, make sure to take care of yourself. Compassion fatigue or secondary stress reaction is a type of physical, emotional, or psychological burnout that comes from the impact of helping others to an extreme extent and is something quite common in teenage/early adult students and healthcare professionals. Signs can include insomnia, depression, anxiety, detachment, mood swings, and more. When helping others, knowing your boundaries and standing by them is very important. Know when you need to step aside for your health or when to recommend someone to higher care. Along with taking care of yourself mentally and psychologically, make sure to physically take care of your bodies through the season changes as well. Making sure you are getting enough rest, eating right, staying active, and even socializing can have a huge impact on your mental health.
Especially in the month of December when we as students face the conflicting emotions of stressful final exams versus the much-needed winter break that follows, take the time to reflect introspectively on your emotions and learn what they mean. The winter season can be hard for many, whether it be seasonal affective disorder, end-of-semester stress, or several other stressors from life recognizing signs within yourself can be one step towards getting the help you deserve.