Seasonal depression is more than just the “Winter Blues.” Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) deeply hinders many from being able to live out their daily life, and the stigma surrounding SAD only prevents us from helping those who have it.

SAD: What it is

About 5% of adults in the United States alone suffer from seasonal depression, according to the American Psychiatric Center. People with SAD often experience mood changes, a characteristic of depression. Symptoms often occur during fall and winter months because they have less visible sunlight. Although less common, some experience SAD in summer months.

Because winter months have shorter daylight hours, especially for those living further away from the equator, many experience a biochemical imbalance in the brain.

This imbalance can lead to and is not limited to:

  • Sadness or a depressed mood
  • Changes in appetite
  • A loss in energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts of death and suicide

And for those 5% of Americans, the effects of SAD can last for 40% of the year.

SAD college students

SAD is most common at Northeastern universities and affects 5 to 13% of the population. The National Institute of Mental Health found in a 2011 survey that 30% of college students characterized themselves as “so depressed it was difficult to function.”

So depressed it was difficult to Function

survey, National institute of mental health

College freshman seem to be one of the highest risk groups for seasonal depression. The physical change in location could mean a change in latitude or climate. The additional stress in increased demands and living independently may decrease a student’s ability to cope. And self-discipline is more important than ever because no parent is there to nag about homework or chores. All of these new challenges for freshman students could cause a domino effect, causing an already decreased energy state to worsen.

Overcoming the stigma

“The idea that depression could fade in and out according to the weather just rings as another “excuse” that people with depression are accused of making. And, unfortunately, people living in the middle of untreated Sad are often simply unable to deal with the accusations and ignorance that comes from the lack of proper education.”

Susana Adame, The Guardian

We need to address the stigma attached to seasonal depression in order to ensure that the people affected by its symptoms are able to get the proper treatment they deserve. SAD is not just a winter gloom or something to be suppressed, it’s a condition that is life-altering. It’s time we acknowledge that happiness and productivity aren’t always a given. It’s a privilege. So, it is our responsibility to ensure that those suffering with a mental illness have the tools to combat it.

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