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True or false: the worst part of winter is waiting for the bus that is inevitably late, and sometimes never comes.
While some of you may have (completely justifiably) said true to that, a large portion of our population will argue that is a completely false statement. Why?
Because along with an unpredictable bus schedule, winter also brings about SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), or better known to some as seasonal depression.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is one of the branches of depression. As with all forms of mental illness, SAD has its own triggers. Changes in seasons are what cause seasonal depression to rear its ugly head. Because of this, SAD follows a cycle, beginning and ending around the same times every year. For many, that means it will start to become problematic in the late stages of fall or the early stages of winter, and tapers off with the sunnier days of spring. While that is the typical pattern, some people will find themselves affected by the opposite cycle; drops in mood at the start of spring and early summer.
One of the biggest problems with Seasonal Affective Disorder is that, for people who have never had to face it, it is something that is incredibly easy to blow off as ‘winter blues’. This means that for people who do find themselves fighting this particular beast, their feelings are often belittled, which can lead to a snowballing of depressive emotions.
While we may not know the exact causes of SAD yet, there are three common factors. Firstly, your biological clock (scientifically known as ‘circadian rhythm’) is thrown for a loop as the seasons change. The reduced sunlight disrupts our internal clock which leads to feelings of depression.
Additionally, the lack of sunlight is one of the chief culprits in the major drop in serotonin levels. Serotonin is the chemical responsible for affecting mood and when our brains don’t produce enough of it (for whatever reason), depression is triggered.
Finally, changes in weather and temperature really disrupt the body’s balance and production of melatonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for sleep and by extension, mood.
Seasonal depression symptoms are naturally quite similar to those of the typical depression disorder. Feeling depressed nearly all of the time, losing interest in once loved activities, low energy, issues with sleep or appetite, unshakeable feelings of hopelessness or guilt, and recurring feelings of agitation or sluggishness are among a myriad of symptoms people living with SAD will endure.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, just like any kind of depression, is not a hopeless cause. If any of the above symptoms sound familiar or are something you recognize as being something you’ve felt, reach out to a medical professional. There are multiple ways a doctor or a mental health professional can diagnose and help patients find treatment for SAD.
As horrifying as reaching out for help can be, suffering alone is something that nobody should ever have to do, especially if the things we want help for have been minimized by everyone around us.
Remember to be kind to one another, because while waiting for a bus to come is undeniably awful, having someone tell you that that is the worst part of winter while you wait for the sun that doesn’t seem to want to come out is the worst bus stop to be waiting at.
Originally Published in Bandersnatch Vol.49 Issue 07 on December 4th, 2019