Seasonal Depression

Seasonal Depression


Autumn has made her entrance once again. For most this signals the arrival of cooler weather, colorful falling leaves, warm sweaters and coats, preparing for the holiday season, and the end of daylight savings time. But for some this also signals the appearance of something far less pleasant; the beginning symptoms of seasonal depression.

Seasonal depression, clinically known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is a mood disorder that typically affects suffers each year from the late fall through the winter months, lifting in the spring. Although less frequently seen, it can occur at other times of year. The key elements of SAD are: 

  1. a clear relationship between the onset of symptoms and a particular time of year;
  2. a clear relationship between the remission of symptoms and a particular time of year; and
  3. there are no specific life stressors occurring at that same time each year (for example, being unemployed each winter or being busy with schoolwork each fall). 

People who struggle with SAD usually begin to experience signs of depression as the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer. Symptoms include sadness, anxiety, irritability, social withdrawal, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite (undereating or overeating), changes in sleep (insomnia or oversleeping), low energy, and reduced interest in things one once enjoyed.

The causes of SAD remain unclear; researchers continue to work towards a better understanding of the contributing issues. However, theories suggest that reduced levels of sunlight during the fall and winter months may impact three factors which, in turn, affect mood: circadian rhythm (natural sleep-wake cycle), melatonin level (a hormone that contributes to sleep and mood regulation), and serotonin level (a brain chemical that contributes to sleep and mood regulation).

What can you do if you believe you, or a loved one, are struggling with SAD? First and foremost, consult a trained professional for assistance. Effective treatments for SAD include psychotherapy, light therapy, and antidepressant medications. A psychologist, clinical social worker, or physician can discuss these different options and help one determine which treatment option(s) would be best for an individual. Registered NJCU students are eligible for free, confidential counseling at the NJCU Counseling Center in Gilligan Student Union Room 308. Call us at 201-200-3165 to request an appointment. Registered students can also consult a physician or nurse at the NJCU Health & Wellness Center in Vodra 107. For more information, call 201-200-3456.