Despite wild swings in temperature this winter, Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center is continuing to urge students to be on the lookout for signs of seasonal affective disorder.
According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD is a mood disorder characterized by depression that occurs at the same time every year with the onset of winter.
For most people, symptoms start at the beginning of fall and continue into the winter months, and symptoms can include a period of sadness for at least two weeks accompanied by feelings of hopelessness, changes in sleep, weight gain and irritability, said Kristie Harris, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology.
“SAD rarely appears in the seasons of spring and summer,” Harris said. “It is rare when someone has the opposite, where they have depressive symptoms during the summer months, but it can happen.”
The disorder is more common in women, according to Columbus Public Health’s website. It appears most frequently in people between the ages of 15 and 55 and the likelihood of experiencing symptoms increases for those with a family member who has SAD.
SAD can stem from a decrease in activity that comes with the winter months and cold weather, Harris said. She said because it is more common for people to stay inside when outside conditions are poor, they become less active than in warmer months and develop inadequate health habits.
The shorter days also can lead to changes in people’s serotonin and melatonin levels, triggering depressive symptoms, said Jessica Lammers, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Ohio State. She said melatonin and serotonin chemicals maintain circadian rhythms, which contribute to sleep regulation.
To combat symptoms of SAD, students should consider ways to bring more light into their homes — like placing lamps next to beds — and should exercise in light, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Though the cold and dreary weather in Ohio might continue, spring break could potentially alleviate SAD symptoms for students traveling to sunnier areas.
“One recommendation for students on campus is to try traveling south, where you can get more sunlight,” Lammers said. “If you cannot travel, we encourage counseling, activities, even in the winter and light therapy, which you should use 20 to 30 minutes every morning.”
While SAD arises from a combination of genetic and environmental factors, Harris said learning SAD coping mechanisms can help decrease one’s risk of the disorder.