With the days getting visibly shorter and sunshine becoming increasingly scarce, the winter blues are likely to resurface for many of us. But for many students, this goes beyond a bit of huffing and puffing about the shit weather. The phenomenon, known to the medical community as Seasonal Affective Disorder (coincidentally abbreviated as SAD), is a form of depression caused by the shorter, darker days, and the toll it takes on our bodies. And since 20% of the UK population are affected by SAD, more discussion of it is needed to help recognise it and learn how to manage it.
Although the precise causes of SAD are yet to be determined, it’s generally agreed that the amount of sunshine that we receive directly affects our production of hormones such as serotonin and melatonin, which control mood, sleepiness and appetite levels. Our circadian rhythm (fancy word for body clock) is also altered, leading to an overall feeling of sluggishness, unhealthy cravings, low mood and a loss of interest in everyday life and socialisation. In short, many people affected by the disorder tend to have a strong desire to “hibernate” and not deal with the world outside of their duvets.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is medically recognised as a depressive illness due to its depression-like symptoms, but it is rarely treated as such. Most tend to identify the lethargy and apathy as no more than laziness or moodiness, and although they see the correlation with the weather, they take little to no steps to help themselves.
If you recognise any of these symptoms, one way you can help yourself is by exposing yourself to as much sunlight as possible. But since it’s Scotland we live in after all, a good substitute is a SAD lamp or light bulb, which simulate the brightness of the sunshine and can have a positive impact on your mood. Furthermore, the University’s Counselling and Psychological Services are a great place to start looking for help if you feel that the symptoms are becoming overwhelming. So, look after yourself and your mental health this winter, and don’t suffer from SAD in silence.