The change in weather can be a struggle for many of us. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder, specifically a type of depression that coincides with the changes in season. Particularly (although not always), SAD appears with the onset of winter and gets better once winter has ended. Scientists believe that this may have something to do with the lower amount of sunlight exposure that we get in the winter months.

Unfortunately, many people confuse their ‘winter blues’ with this quite serious illness. Feeling gloomy is not the same as being diagnosed with SAD. One of the problems with understanding this illness is that there is so much stigma and ignorance around it. People don’t quite understand what it means to have SAD. We may feel sad during rough times in our lives or gloomy in bad weather, but our colloquial usage of the term ‘sad’ is debilitating to the ways we understand address this disorder in our communities.

I interviewed Shilo, an undergraduate student, who has been diagnosed with SAD. I think her experiences with this illness can help us better understand things from her perspective:

Many of us struggle with the winter blues, so how exactly did you know that you had SAD?

I already knew I had other mental problems. I always knew I had depression. I was diagnosed with it officially last year. I knew I had anxiety issues. I noticed that it’s just worse in the fall. In the wintertime and then in the holidays, it’s disturbingly bad. My mood is always really low.

How would you say that SAD has influenced your personal activities. What would you say is the biggest challenge you have in dealing with SAD?

It’s definitely harder to get things done. I feel less motivated and I kind of feel like not getting out of bed at all. So, it definitely makes showing up to class harder. You’re like, “Well, it’s cold outside.” There’s no point. I don’t even want to leave the house. If you can’t attend lectures, you know, then you’re kind of screwed.

How do you deal with SAD?

Well, I started taking vitamin D supplements. But I also talk to my doctor and have prescription for anxiety medication, which gets me through it. With SAD, it doesn’t help so much, but it kind of helps if I feel less anxious, then I also feel a little less depressed in general. It’s not a direct thing, but that helps. Also, I’ve been lucky this year to have really nice roommates, so that makes staying in not so depressing. So that helps quite a bit. But I noticed that as soon as it gets cold out, I do self-meditate more.

What advice would you give to other students who are dealing with SAD?

Definitely, get some Vitamin D supplements. I mean, they’re cheap. Get them at any drugstore. They do make a huge difference… Also, I think it’s important to take time for self-care. Maybe schedule something indoors with your friends, even if you have work. You know, you gotta pick a night to do something indoors and cheer yourself up a little bit.

Did being surrounded by people who were educated about SAD help you deal with your depression?

Definitely. It’s nice to even be able to talk about things… When I’m talking to my friends who also struggle with mental health issues, [we say things like],  “Try this medication. I tried it. These [were] the side effects.” Even though it’s different with everybody, mental health is still very trial and error in that sense. You never know what kind of combination of medication will finally work for you. It’s nice to be able to really talk about it or talk about things that aren’t necessarily medications… maybe, there’s a new hobby that keeps you motivated.

So, SAD is supposed to be seasonal. With the onset of summer, did you notice a change in yourself physically, mentally emotionally?

Yeah. Even, honestly as early as March when there’s more sunshine and the weather starts getting warm. Instantly, I’m very elated and I do feel better. But also, I feel like it’s a little connected to the fact that I have very poor health and I’m always sick in the wintertime. 

What do you think is the biggest misconception about SAD or even depression in general?

People think it’s like… it’s a problem finding an interest in something. People are like you won’t get out of bed, because you don’t like your scores. It’s not that. It’s just difficult to overcome the barrier.

There’s still a lot to learn about SAD. Hopefully, we can end the stigma around this disease and get communities talking and discussing strategies for helping people with SAD.

Author

Sad or SAD?
I am a medical student at the University of Toronto. I enjoy meeting new people, drawing and writing.