The Case of the Winter Blues

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Winter does not technically begin until December 21st, but as the days shorten and daylight exposure decreases, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) becomes increasingly prevalent among Parkview students. SAD is a subset of depression disorders that typically begin in the late fall and early winter and lasts until the spring or early summer.

SAD arises in the fall and winter because the body’s internal clock is shifted by fewer daylight hours and less sunshine. Some mood-regulating hormones, such as serotonin, fluctuate with the seasons. The shorter days bring a lack of light, which could disrupt your circadian rhythm. It can lead your brain to generate too much melatonin, the sleep hormone, and less serotonin, the brain chemical that regulates mood. 

The chemical imbalance causes individuals to have symptoms similar to depression, such as lack of interest in things they enjoy, moodiness, weariness, feelings of hopelessness, changes in eating and sleep, and suicidal ideation.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, SAD often begins in adolescence and is more frequent in people with major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder, particularly bipolar II disorder, which is characterized by recurrent depressive and hypomanic episodes. The NIMH also states that SAD is more frequent in women and young adults than men and older adults.

As students are more susceptible to depression, this disorder causes a decline in numerous high school students’ mental health. Parkview senior, Kellan Lane, says, “As the end of the semester approaches, I am already stressed and struggling with my mental health. The weather change is just an added aggression to an already declining mental health.” Many students echo the same sentiment as they procrastinate more and lose motivation to complete their assignments. Junior American Literature teacher, Mrs. Oliver, expressed her understanding and compassion for those struggling to end the year. She remarks on the late assignments her students turn in, “I always accept late assignments for full credit because I know these students go through a lot with other classes and fluctuation of mental health. The cold season always brings an increase in late assignments.”

Some ways to combat the winter blues are maintaining a healthy diet alongside regular exercise and consistent sleep patterns. An alternative to antidepressant medication is light therapy to replace the daylight lost during the winter from daylight savings. Light treatment exposes an individual to artificial light for a set length of time each day, first thing in the morning. It comprises a light therapy box that generates a bright light to boost serotonin levels and reestablish a normal circadian rhythm. Continuous light treatment can also help improve one’s mood and vitality, which can help combat the effects of seasonal depression. If you or a friend are struggling and need to receive counseling or help, please tell a trusted adult or contact the National Alliance of Mental Illness at 1-800-950-6264.