It’s time to talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder


Mental illness cannot be immediate reasoning when tragedy strikes

By Brooke Pawling Stennett

The fall season has crept up entirely too fast. One minute it was 80 degrees and bright, the next it was cold and dark before 8 p.m. The new season comes with the usual head colds, classes and late nights. As summer gives way to fall, it’s important to remember that 4 to 6 percent of people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and may need resources to try to push through the oncoming seasons. 

SAD is a type of depression that’s related to changes in the seasons and starts and ends the same time each year, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms include irritability, weight gain and hypersensitivity to rejection. 

Those who are diagnosed with what is often called “winter depression”-—a form of SAD—usually start to feel the changes in the fall and throughout winter because the days get shorter and natural light lessens. The symptoms dissipate during the summer, but there are some who are diagnosed with “Summer SAD,” which affects 10 percent of people with SAD. 

More people are diagnosed than one might think, so it’s important Columbia students, faculty and staff are aware of how to help themselves or someone else as winter draws nearer. 

Buy a specialized SAD lamp or light box

Humans revolve around a day-night cycle—also known as circadian rhythms—and when that gets interrupted by the shorter days and we see less natural light, it can affect sleep, mood and cognitive performance, according to a May 23, 2014, Everyday Health article. A specialized SAD lamp or light therapy box gives off artifical light that mimics natural sunlight, which helps the affected combat negative thoughts, sleep better and balance a healthy diet. The benefits of light therapy, also known as phototherapy or helioptherapy, have been proven to replace medicine for those with SAD, according to the same article. By sitting near a light therapy box for just a few hours, your mood can improve greatly. 

Don’t be afraid to talk to or recommend a therapist

Talking to someone about personal experiences and emotions is difficult, but therapy can be a huge help to break through a gloomy mood. The stigma attached to seeing a therapist has been around for decades, but there is no shame in needing someone to talk to. For years, studies have shown that putting feelings into words has a therapeutic effect on the brain. The University of California, Los Angeles found in a 2007 study of 18 women and 12 men between the ages of 18 and 36 that putting feelings into words is similar to hitting the brakes on a person’s emotional responses, which can help alleviate anger or sadness.

Walk around inside or outside

Leaving an apartment or a dorm is already difficult during winter, but especially if you are is suffering from this type of depression, which can be cruel and hard to face because it saps your energy. However, getting up and moving around is good medicine and allows you to form a routine. Even if the hallway is as far as you get, taking at least a couple steps can improve your mood. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise releases endorphins and neurotransmitters, also known as “feel-good brain chemicals” that may ease depression and provide distraction from negative intrusive thoughts. Exercising also causes a person’s body temperature to rise, which can have calming effects. For those with SAD, the calm should come during the storm.