According to Psychology Today, 10 million Americans struggle with seasonal affective disorder.
Jenny Schamber, interim director of Taylor’s Counseling Center, points out that this disorder is very relevant to today’s society and is more than just feeling “bummed out.”
“It’s very different than just having the ‘winter blues,’” Schamber said. “Someone who is experiencing this disorder is struggling with a type of depression.”
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a condition with depression-like symptoms and, as the name implies, is more common in some seasons than in others. It has largely to do with the amount of sunlight one is exposed to throughout the day. If you’ve ever spent a February day at Taylor, you know that sunlight is sometimes a rare privilege.
Statistically speaking, SAD affects six percent of the American population. Apply that statistic to Taylor’s student body and you come out with roughly 120 students struggling with it.
Such a small student body means that it’s likely that if you don’t struggle with SAD, then you at least know someone firsthand who does.
Laura Edwards, assistant professor of psychology, is very familiar with the symptoms and effects of SAD.
“SAD . . . is a type of depression that's linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter,” Edwards said. “Symptoms vary from mild to severe and may include feelings of sadness or depressed mood, experiencing a marked loss of interest or pleasure in activities that once brought joy and satisfaction, changes in appetite and sleep, low energy, feeling hopeless, having trouble concentrating and may include thoughts of death and suicide.”
Most causes of SAD can be diagnosed medically. According to Mayo Clinic, primary causes of SAD come from reduced levels of serotonin, melatonin, and sunlight exposure. These chemical changes can be identified through blood tests.
If you know someone who has shown or is showing signs of SAD, encourage them to look for treatment.
“Getting bloodwork done is a good solution,” Schamber said. “Light therapy is another good solution to SAD. We have two therapy lamps available in the counseling center for anyone to use.”
Therapy lamps are a sunlight-simulant, intended to give the human body that certain amount of sunlight that it may be lacking.
Edwards has a positive view on the use of therapy lamps, but also encourages other solutions outside of light therapy.
“SAD can be effectively treated and may include light therapy which involves sitting in front of a light therapy box,” Edwards said. “Counseling can effectively treat SAD so if you feel you have symptoms of SAD, seek the help of a trained professional.”
Edwards also lists spending time outside, antidepressant medications, increased exercise, healthy eating, staying connected, volunteering and counseling as viable solutions.
So how can we help as a community?
Be on the lookout for symptoms of SAD in yourself and friends. Running with the statistics on the subject, you likely know someone who suffers from it.
A lack of interest in events, increased sleepiness, changes in sleeping patterns and drastic changes in appetite are key tells in identifying SAD. Don’t let yourself or others suffer alone with this disorder. Although SAD and various types of depression can be sensitive topics to discuss, our job as a Christian body is to care for one another.