Let There Be Light: Learning to Cope with SAD

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Let There Be Light: Learning to Cope with SAD

Seasonal affective disorder often strikes in the winter, but it can be treated.

Seasonal affective disorder often strikes in the winter, but it can be treated.

Photo hosted at https://www.bostonmagazine.com/health/2017/01/29/how-to-treat-seasonal-affective-disorder/

Seasonal affective disorder often strikes in the winter, but it can be treated.

Photo hosted at https://www.bostonmagazine.com/health/2017/01/29/how-to-treat-seasonal-affective-disorder/

Photo hosted at https://www.bostonmagazine.com/health/2017/01/29/how-to-treat-seasonal-affective-disorder/

Seasonal affective disorder often strikes in the winter, but it can be treated.

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Winter depression. The January blues. Seasonal slumps. As the light fades out of the day, and snow covers the ground, you often can feel down in the dumps. With a sudden absence of joyful family holidays, and the pressure of resolutions to change yourself for the better, it is natural to feel “blue”. However, when this mood starts to bleed over into your daily life and personality traits every winter, it is beyond just a slight case of seasonal sadness. Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD or seasonal depression, is a subset of depression that falls in accordance to the change of seasons. The most common form is winter-onset, in which depressions symptoms surface in late fall and last throughout the winter months.

SAD is a serious issue to be taken seriously, as it can affect anyone you know around you. Coping with a mental illness while also attempting to maintain healthy relationships and good grades is no easy feat. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and you can guide yourself or someone you know that is suffering to ease and recovery, despite what life and school asks of you.

SAD: What Exactly Is It?

SAD is a mental illness that consists of depression symptoms surfacing due to a change in season. Margaret Brewer, a teacher Scott County HIgh School,  shared her struggles with seasonal affective disorder. “When you have SAD, things are harder when it’s cold or dark,” she explained. “It’s harder to get out of bed, harder to get off the couch, harder to go out with friends, harder to eat healthy foods, harder to see the good side of things.”

The exact cause of SAD has yet to be pinpointed, as it is a “hidden illness”. According to The Mayo Clinic, the lack of sunlight could cause a decrease in serotonin, otherwise known as “the happy chemical”, or throw off your body’s natural biological clock, triggering a depressed mood.

Many dispute the validity of a SAD diagnosis. When brought up, it’s not uncommon to have individuals comment that SAD is not real, or to have someone say “That’s not real, everyone gets sad in January! We’re all just cold and tired.”  If only it was that simple.

The Shadowed Student: How SAD Affects Our Teens

Follow the path of any student during the school day, and expect to be met with an onslaught of demands: achieve passing grades or better, complete loads of work on time, participate in extracurriculars to impress college boards, and on top of all that, maintain a stable and healthy social and personal life. For anyone, this is significant work, but adding a mental illness on top only makes it harder.

Teachers work hard to be alert for warning signs of SAD in students, and they want to form a healthy support system for their pupils to fall back on. Brewer said, “I try to notice when something is “off” with them. I do see students who seem more tired in the winter. Sometimes students who normally seem happy or talkative are more quiet or put their heads down. I try to let students know that they can tell me if they are having a bad day or if they need to take a break.”

The Road to Recovery: Learning to Cope and Assist

Although there is no permanent cure for seasonal affective disorder, there are numerous treatments and pathways of help gain what is lost. It all begins with a single step: talk. Karen Gibbs, a long term substitute in the Scott County Schools district that is self-diagnosed with SAD, urged students that feel they may be impacted by SAD to “Talk to someone! Never allow yourself to suffer in silence for any reason. Get help! There are too many resources today to suffer alone without help”.

If you need assistance, mention your problems to someone you truly trust, like a friend, teacher, or counselor. And in reverse, if you see signs of concern in someone you know, take the leap to assist them and start again, by talking. Let them vent and express, and together you can play a part in leading them to the support they need.

Treatments of seasonal depression include: taking antidepressants, using a light box or lamp that mimics natural sunlight, or going outside to soak up whatever rays you can to boost serotonin. Brewer recommended eating “a lot of fruits and vegetables high in vitamins.” She also shared that she takes Vitamin D (the vitamin that sunlight gives off) supplements to balance her mood.

Gibbs stated that she relies on a tanning bed during the winter months, or in long stretches of dismal weather, as a coping strategy to receive the UV light she needs.  She also tries to keep busy. “I force myself to do things that I enjoy to keep my mood up,” she elaborated and advised other with the disorder to do the same to cope.

The idea of treatment can be overwhelming or even embarrassing to a classmate or fellow teen with SAD. When encountering someone struggling with SAD, be supportive.  Remind them to take their medications in the morning, so they don’t feel bad that day. Plan activities with the individual: listen to music together, dance wildly, or simply sit and have a conversation during their light therapy sessions. Go on walks together after school, or meet up in the park to study so they can bask in sunlight. Take whatever measures you can to make them comfortable and know that they are accepted by you, regardless of their brain makeup or chemical imbalances.

Just because you or a friend is living with a diagnosis doesn’t mean that life must be put on pause until the winter is over. In the words of Ella Baker, “Give light and people will find the way”. Let in the light of your love into those who need help: together, you can beat the winter.  

Symptoms and Warning Signs:

If you feel as if you or someone else might have winter-pattern SAD, ask these questions provided by the NIMH:

  • Do you feel as if you are tired all the time or have no energy?
  • Does your mood worsen during the winter months, and you can’t change it?
  • Are you no longer enjoying activities or hobbies that you used to love?
  • Are you having difficulty sleeping- i.e. insomnia, waking up and not falling back asleep, or sleeping too much?
  • Are you gaining weight?
  • Do you find yourself withdrawing from family and friends, like you want to hide away?

If you or someone you know is showing signs of SAD, reach out to your nearest health professional and receive a diagnosis as soon as possible, so you can recieve your deserved help quickly and start the road to recovery.  Students questioning their moods during winter can also seek the advice of school counselors.