January 27, 2020

By ASHLEY WELFORD-COSTELLOE

It’s the beginning of March and we have approximately six weeks before the school year ends. You’d think this would motivate students to work harder than they’ve ever had to work before in order to get those assignments completed on time. However, most students just don’t feel like they have the energy to do any work. They’re burnt out.

You’re probably wondering how that’s possible considering we’ve just come back from reading week and had three weeks off during the holidays. How can anyone be burnt out after all that time off?

It’s a condition known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD for short. SAD is a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. For example, a person who is vulnerable to this disorder may fall into a type of clinical depression that may begin in late autumn and last until spring.

SAD can be debilitating, preventing those afflicted from functioning normally. It can affect their personal and professional lives, and seriously limit their potential. It is important for sufferers to learn about the symptoms so they can seek the proper treatment.

Symptoms can be difficult to diagnose as many of them are similar to those of other types of depression or mood disorders. Even physical conditions such as thyroid problems can look like depression. Generally, symptoms that recur for at least two consecutive winters without any other explanation for changes in one’s behaviour can indicate the presence of SAD.

Symptoms include a change in one’s appetite, in particular a craving for sweet or starchy foods, weight gain, decreased energy, fatigue, tendency to oversleep, difficulty concentrating, irritability, avoidance of social situations and feelings of anxiety and despair. Symptoms of SAD usually disappear when spring arrives. For some people, this happens suddenly. For others, the effects of SAD gradually dissipate.

Research in Ontario suggests between two per cent and three per cent of the general population may have SAD. Another 15 per cent have a less severe condition described as the winter blues, which is often mistaken for SAD.

SAD may affect some children and teenagers, but it tends to begin in people over the age of 20 and is more common in women.

If you suffer from some of the more severe symptoms, you should seek professional help. People with mild symptoms can benefit by spending more time outdoors during the day or arranging their environments so that they receive maximum sunlight. For example, keep curtains open during the day or move furniture so that you can sit near a window.

Exercise can also help with the symptoms. Try to build physical activity into your lifestyle before SAD symptoms take hold. Make a habit of taking a daily walk. The increased exposure to sunlight can raise your spirits.

SAD is not something you have to live with. It can be treated. For more information, you can contact Counselling Services or a community organization such as the Canadian Mental Health Association to find out about different treatments.