Entering the junior year of the COVID-19 pandemic, another gloomy winter season awaits us and our youth. Seasonal depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, affects hundreds of thousands of people every year in the United States during this change in seasons. The unfortunate truth is that most of these people do not even know they have it and in turn, suffer from it every year at the same time.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is depression that occurs at one specific time of the year and forms a pattern, occurring at this same time every year. SAD is generally regarded as depression that begins as the seasons turn to fall or winter. These low feelings come due to the sudden decrease of sunlight during the day, setting off a chain of events in the brain and leaving it starving for sunlight. The turn in seasons, days getting shorter and nights getting longer, can have an intense impact on our youth and their mental well-being.
Typically, once the days start getting longer again, the depression will subside. Nevertheless, a handful of people may encounter this depression in the spring and summer instead. Men are usually less affected by SAD than women and the symptoms generally arise in older teenagers or young adults. Even though men are not as widely affected as women, the symptoms may be more severe. Younger teens and children can experience seasonal depression as well.
It is widely believed that seasonal depression rears its head due to the shorter hours of daylight that comes with the change in seasons. This decrease in daylight impacts two extremely important chemicals in the brain, serotonin and melatonin. Both of these chemicals are of paramount importance to the body’s sleep-wake schedule, energy levels, and overall mood.
Melatonin is an extremely important sleep hormone that the brain produces in response to darkness. Darker days cause more melatonin to be produced, therefore making a person feel dreary, sleepy, less motivated, and less energized. Serotonin on the other hand is a hormone that is key in stabilizing our moods and in increasing energy levels in our body. Serotonin is produced when the body is exposed to sunlight, the shorter days mean less sunlight and lower serotonin levels. The combination of shorter days and decreasing levels of sunlight are the main ingredients for the development of SAD.
Luckily, there are many treatments that have shown proven results in reducing the symptoms of seasonal depression such as:
- Exposure to more light- Many people that are diagnosed with SAD are generally told to begin treatment by exposing themselves to more natural light during the day. This natural light can boost serotonin levels, sometimes leading to immediate relief. Youth can obtain this time outside by participating in recreational activities, school sports, or playing outside after school with friends.
- Light therapy- This is a form of treatment using ultraviolet rays (UV rays) to soothe symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. During light therapy, the patient sits or works near a box of light that attempts to mimic natural outdoor light. Each session typically lasts around 45 minutes and is done every day until symptoms subside or until there is enough natural light outside again.
- Therapy- Talking with a therapist can assist in reducing symptoms and negative thoughts that are associated with depression. Talking about your problems with a professional can drastically improve understanding of the condition and diminish the feeling of being alone or isolated from others.
Some easy and effective at home treatments include:
- Opening the shades to your windows
- Regular exercise
- Healthy and nutritional diet
- Spending time with loved ones
- Developing a sleep routine
Given these points I feel that we have no choice but to conclude that depression can be serious in any form. If you feel that you or a loved one may be struggling with depression, talk to someone that can help.
Resources for people struggling with mental health:
- 2nd Floor – https://www.2ndfloor.org a confidential and anonymous helpline for New Jersey’s youth and young adults
- Suicide Prevention Hotline can be accessed 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 for Crisis Text Line
- Disaster Distress Helpline external icon: call or text 1-800-985-5990 (press 2 for Spanish).
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline external icon: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish, or Lifeline Crisis Chat external icon
- Lyness, D. A. (Ed.). (2020, January). Seasonal affective disorder (for teens) – nemours kidshealth. KidsHealth. Retrieved October 13, 2021, from https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/sad.html.
- What is seasonal affective disorder? Child Mind Institute. (2021, September 15). Retrieved October 13, 2021, from https://childmind.org/article/seasonal-affective-disorder/.
- Winter Blues and seasonal affective disorder. HealthyChildren.org. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2021, from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/emotional-problems/Pages/Winter-Blues-Seasonal-Affective-Disorder-and-Depression.aspx.