Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a season related depression that takes place around the same time each year. People may start to feel sad and depressed when nature starts to change with the seasons. Most of us usually miss the summer light or the longer days during winter, but SAD is much more severe than this. People struggling with SAD suffer from depression everyday for about 4-5 months. However, SAD doesn’t just occur in winter, for some it comes during the summer, though this is less common. SAD also tends to be more common for people living farther north where daylight is shorter during the winter.
Depression or SAD... how are they different?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a subgroup of major depression. Therefore some symptoms are the same as major depression, but they differ based on the time of year. Symptoms of major depression include feeling sad most or all days, losing interest in things that are typically enjoyable, changes in appetite, sleep issues, low energy, and sometimes thoughts of death and suicide. For SAD, the symptoms remain the same but with subtle changes. For example, in the case of winter-based SAD, you might sleep and eat more than usual. Another symptom that some may encounter is withdrawal from their social life, as if they are hibernating. On the other hand, in summer-based SAD, you might suffer from sleeplessness, poor appetite, restlessness, and anxiety.
Those with an official diagnosis have symptoms during specific seasons for at least two consecutive years. Additionally, these symptoms are more frequent during those seasons than other times of the year. Something important to note is that people with Bipolar Disorder are at increased risk of SAD. These people may experience symptoms of mania, agitation, and anxiety during the summer and spring. Likewise, they may experience depression during fall and winter.
Students & SAD
Student mental health can be heavily affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). In addition to all of the regular stress of academics, social lives, and tough adolescent years, experiencing SAD only makes life harder. One study found that SAD is much more common in youth than in adults. The study also found SAD to be more prevalent in northern regions than southern regions, indicating that one’s location matters.
Struggling with SAD can impact students’ academic performance or achievement negatively. Because of their loss of interest in a specific season, it can be hard to focus on their studies when experiencing symtpoms. Their social life can also be affected since withdrawal is common, making extracurricular activities harder to engage with. If SAD occurs during the summer, during their only long vacation, they won’t get the chance to do things others normally do in summer. They could face social pressures to go out and have fun in the summer like most people which may worsen their mental state as they are not able to do so. Changes in sleep and appetite can also affect their ability to complete schoolwork on time. Overall, struggling with SAD as a student can bring on many unexpected challenges that may not impact others.
Schools Can Help
Schools are uniquely situated to help students struggling with SAD. By sharing resources related to SAD, they can and should encourage students to seek help if symptoms arise and persist. During the winter, schools can host outdoor activities so students are getting more sunlight, which can help prevent depressive symptoms. Providing resources over the summer that offer encouraging, accessible ways for students to remain engaged with their peers, nature, and themselves may also help. In conclusion, providing preventive measures and accommodations can go a long way in reducing the rate of students struggling.
Students can also learn to help themselves when struggling by:
letting teachers know about their circumstances so that they can accommodate as necessary.
talking to friends for support. Whether during the school year or over the summer, it's important to reach out and maintain social connections as much as possible.
leaning into season-specific activities like swimming in summer or enjoying the holiday spirit in winter.
Schools can play a major role in promoting these activities and behaviors in students throughout the year.
If you’re looking to provide mental health support to your students all year round, Neolth is a digital stress and mental health support program for students and educators. We’re on a mission to help students stress less, build resilience, and become a part of our compassionate community. Our app helps students when feeling overwhelmed with self-guided content, personalized for one's own mental health journey. Neolth has a growing community of Student Ambassadors from 170 schools and works with schools to improve access to mental health support for their students and teachers alike. You can learn more at neolth.com or sign up today at cloud.neolth.com.
About the Author:
Tahsina Riju (she/her) is an Editorial intern at Neolth and a senior at Smith College studying Psychology and Economics. She is passionate about working towards making mental health issues more known and the resources to deal with those issues more accessible in immigrant communities. Some of the things in psychology that have caught her attention are gender role beliefs, immigrant generational differences, and religion as a healing source. After graduation she’s planning to go into a career that combines both psychology and economics. When not in school, she likes to spend time with her cat, watch shows, and go out with friends.