Seasonal Affective Disorder, more than winter blues
February 10, 2016
The winter blues come and go for some, but are much more severe in others. Many people who live in the cold regions of the world can develop a condition in which too little sun can cause them to go into a depressive state.
It often occurs during the winter months when people do not often venture outside and stay in the darkness and artificial light of their homes. It however, is possible during the summer months also, but is much more prevalent and linked to winter and fall when the times are dark and gray.
This disorder is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or more commonly known as S.A.D, which is correspondingly, the feeling this disorder creates.
S.A.D is a very common disorder seen throughout the U.S. with approximately 3 million cases per year is caused due to a vitamin D deficiency. It is a treatable illness with many people commonly using phototherapy, using lights which mimic natural light which changes chemicals in the brain which are linked to mood (i.e. Serotonin levels).
When Serotonin, a chemical in the brain linked to mood changes, is in low amounts, emotions tend to be lowered. Moods such as depression, anger and loneliness can be linked to low serotonin levels.
In people with S.A.D, serotonin levels drop during months of low-light, specifically winter. This causes the person to feel depressed, have suicidal thoughts, lose sleep, and other symptoms associated with depression.
A.P. Psychology and History teacher Michael Kaul said, “You have endorphins, you have seretonin, and dopamine, you have chemicals that lead to feelings of happiness, wellness, balance and if you disrupt those chemicals, then you have an imbalance that can affect mood.”
S.A.D can be categorized under depression but everyone experiences it differently. Kaul added, “Depression can have a lot of different causes and severity. Sometimes it’s an episode or an event so you can’t put it all in one category. For some people, S.A.D effects them more than others.”
Seasonal affective disorder also has the potential to be more situational than seasonal. During the winter months, people with office jobs or jobs in which they stay inside away from sunlight all day may be more prone to getting S.A.D. due to their limited activity in natural light, their bodies are not receiving as much vitamin D as it should which effects the seretonin levels in the body.
Senior Amelia Schneider experiences this as she spends a lot of time dedicated to theater, which keeps her inside and away from natural light. She has spends up to two weeks with little natural light from staying inside and only the stage lights artificial light. She also is affected by school, especially during finals times which
“I think seasonally for me it’s school. It can be finals in January or finals at the end of the year. It’s situational, for some people it’s weather, or things like school and for others it’s jobs,” said Schneider.
With her theater schedule Schneider had lost chances at getting the body’s needed natural light which affected her mood. “I’ve done that for two weeks straight, came in the morning when it’s dark and then left at night when it’s dark and not see the sun for two weeks,” Schneider added.
S.A.D does not have any known cause but there are a few considerations as to what may trigger it. The body’s biological clock may altogether be confused by the reduced sunlight of the winter months as well as little outside activity.
Nora Eiesland, Stillwater’s wellness center counselor said, “It[S.A.D.] has to do with the circadian rythm and feeling the low-light and the darkness. It affects the kind of closed in aspects of winter time by not being able to be as mobile or feel free as you can in the cold weather.” She added, “It has a lot to do with how our eyes register light and low vitamin D that you miss out from when you aren’t in the sun.”
Fortunately for those suffering from S.A.D, they can take vitamin D pills which are realtively cheap or do phototherapy. A small box which mimics natural light is used during phototherapy which is the most common and effective way to treat those with S.A.D. Although only used in the most severe cases, medications such as Aplenzin may be used as well.
Another main cause for S.A.D may be from the cellphones. Doctors have recently been recommending people to set their electronics down a complete hour before they go to bed as the light emanated from electronics could give cells in our body the idea that it is still day time and time for work.
“[Cellphones] emit a blue ray and there is an app called f.lux which helps screen out the blue ray because the blue ray has a similar light to the sun and so your mind can think, ‘Oh I am getting the day signal’. Now we found out that every organ in your body operates on the circadian rythm. What your liver does when you are sleeping is different from what it does when you’re awake,” said Eiesland.
Eiesland added, “They[cells] really need to have these 24 hour cycles and functions and when those get off you feel terrible. And how many kids here are not eating and sleeping right? It is frustrating.”
In the winter many people who have Seasonal Affective Disorder feel depressed and have feelings sort of similar to winter. It is almost the opposite during the summer as people may experience a heightened sense of anxiety and possibly agitation. Along with this, they may also have a poor appetite and insomnia.
S.A.D can affect almost anyone as there hasn’t been a genetic link found, but is seemingly very common to heritages who prosper in colder climates such as the nordic regions of Europe. Different heritages may be more susceptible to getting this disorder as they don’t get as much vitamin d as needed.
There are other factors which are more prone to having S.A.D such as, being a woman , living far from the equator, being 15-55 years old and having a close relative with S.A.D.