In an Octagon poll, 32 of 126 students said that they experience symptoms relating to SAD. Wintertime can bring with it depression, fatigue and social isolation. (Photo illustration)

Seasonal Affective Disorder causes loneliness, depression; students lack motivation during darker seasons

Junior Maryjane Garcia flips her sketchbook shut with a snap. Inspiration is scarce in the dreary winter months, the cold, overcast weather dampening fresh ideas.

According to a recent poll, similar feelings are not uncommon. For a startling 25 percent of the high school, this time of year can mean seasonal depression.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder – also known as SAD – is a type of depression that comes and goes based on seasonal changes. It is most common during the winter months with symptoms such as fatigue, depression, social isolation and lack of concentration or restlessness.

SAD is common in young adults – especially women – and in demanding environments such as schools, according to the American Psychological Association. At Country Day, it’s more prevalent than you’d think.

Of the 32 high-school students who assessed themselves to be depressed during the wintertime, over half reported that they were less motivated to do schoolwork – common behavior for those affected by SAD, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“It’s hard to do homework when it’s dark,” sophomore Nico Burns said. “I like working when it’s lighter outside.”

Sophomore Sonja Hansen agreed. “You’ve just got to buckle down and do it, though,” she said.

Similarly, the majority of the group said that their lack of enthusiasm extended to other activities as well with a whopping 90 percent citing socializing or exercise.

“I seclude myself,” Garcia said. “I don’t feel like talking to anyone; social interaction is an effort.”

As for exercise, sophomore rower Molly Gherini recognizes the symptoms.

“I’m definitely less motivated to row,” she said. “It’s cold outside; you don’t want to work out.”

However, senior Julia Owaidat said she enjoys the routine that basketball season sets in motion for her.

“I feel like I’m more focused,” she said. “There’s a sense of urgency because I have this feeling in the back of my mind that ‘Oh, I’m going to be home late from basketball; I should do my homework during my free time instead of chilling.’”

So, what’s really happening here? Experts center on one main cause: a deficiency in sunlight exposure and, as a result, Vitamin D.

As WebMD explains it, the relationship between your Vitamin D levels and production of melatonin and serotonin is delicate, relying on a complex, balanced web of interactions.

Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is closely related to one’s circadian rhythms, or “biological clock,” that’s based on 24-hour intervals.

Serotonin is a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter and is associated with wakefulness and an improved mood.

When these hormone levels aren’t balanced, the imbalance can lead to depression.

A popular treatment method for SAD is phototherapy from light boxes or dawn simulators.

“(A simulator) brings up the lights in your room as if you have the blinds open and dawn were breaking,” psychologist Jessica Vando explained. “It’s essentially mimicking sunlight.”

Michelle Myers, P.E. department coordinator, said that exercise can also help relieve the symptoms of SAD.

“One hour of exercise is equal to about two-and-a-half hours of light treatment!” Myers said. “So exercise even when you don’t feel like it.”

—By Sahej Claire

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