Degrees to depression

The potential harm of seasonal depression

Sabrina Kizer

The 2021-2022 college application process has finally come to a close, and seniors are now deciding on their next steps. Many of whom will be moving outside of California, where the geography and weather will be different. According to Naviance, 62.35 percent of the Redwood class of 2022 will attend college outside of California. In addition, according to a May 2022 Bark survey, 67 percent of Redwood students have lived in California for the majority of their lives, meaning they’ve mostly experienced the mild winters that California has. But for many, more intense winters await, along with the potential for severe mental health issues. 

According to Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as Seasonal Depression, is a type of mental illness that is triggered by the change of seasons, most commonly during the winter months. SAD often comes with symptoms of sadness and lack of energy, along with other symptoms identified in regular depression. With such a large percentage of the graduating class leaving California and moving to states with drastic weather changes, SAD is becoming relevant.

Infographic by Sabrina Kizer

According to the Mayo Clinic, cases of SAD are typically found in colder states with gray winters and long absences of sunlight. The cause of SAD tends to be an individual’s biological clock change, as when one is in an environment with less sunlight, their biological clock shifts. This internal clock regulates your mood, sleep and hormones and when the clock shifts, it disrupts one’s daily schedule, making it difficult to adjust to the changes in sunlight which can  lead to depression.

2021 Redwood alumna Eloise Reese attends the University of Oregon and has experienced the impact of SAD. Having lived in California for the majority of her youth after moving from Connecticut, Reese admits to taking California’s weather for granted. When applying to college, Reese considered weather as a factor, but did not understand its significance. She also notes that the weather plays a significant role in one’s college experience and while it might not detract from the academic aspects of a school, it is something important to keep in mind.

I had no idea how much the weather affected me. I’ve always loved [the] rain, but the more time I’ve spent in constantly rainy places, the more I’ve learned how much I appreciate the sun,” Reese said. “I did take [the weather] into account, but I didn’t really mind [it too much] and didn’t think it would cause as much difficulty as it did.” 

Kelly Rohan, a professor of psychology at the University of Vermont, researches SAD and further explains its impact on college students. Rohan told the Boston University Radio WBUR-FM in an interview that the change in light is what causes the mood change. Rohan’s research supports Reese’s testimony: When an individual goes from experiencing longer, brighter days to shorter, colder ones, it makes them feel less productive and at times lazy, which can send them into a depressive state.

Art by Sabrina Kizer and Julia Frankus

 Individuals in a state of depression may develop bad habits that can sometimes be the cause of entering an even deeper depression. According to Harvard Health research, it has been shown that those in a depression will only continue to worsen as they continue unhealthy eating and exercising habits; rejecting healthy foods such as salads and protein with a glass of water, for endless bags of Doritos and slices of pizza with a Coca Cola to wash it down. In addition, exercise can be very helpful in improving systems of depression. Exercise is proven to release endorphins, which activates senses of happiness in the brain. Those in a depressive state are proven to be less motivated to workout, which leads to the cycle of depression continuing further and further into a deeper hole.

Rohan has witnessed this sort of cycling behavior. She additionally discovered  that Rohan there are demographic disparities in who is affected by SAD. 

“Women are particularly susceptible — much more so than men. At least two times the number of women as men suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder,” Rohan said.

While the reason behind this finding isn’t well understood by scientists yet, Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones, a women’s health expert at the University of Utah, has a theory. Jones stated that the disparity may be because of estrogen that women are found to experience SAD more frequently. 

“Some researchers have suggested that reduced sunlight can affect serotonin levels, a brain hormone that affects mood,” Jones said. “Fluctuating estrogens, which women have and men don’t so much, also affect serotonin. It can upset our circadian rhythms, which can be associated with depression.”

Art by Julia Frankus

Scientists are beginning to hypothesize solutions. Jones believes that light therapy could be crucial in helping the symptoms of SAD. He claims that women who use phytotherapy, or bright light therapy in the morning, have decreased symptoms by up to 85 percent. The lights work by imitating the warmth and ultraviolet light projected by the sun when the sun is absent. Using these lights allow those in darker places to feel the presence of sun even while it is absent. 

 For the current seniors who will be attending college outside of California, understanding what SAD is may be helpful in preventing developing the condition. For those experiencing SAD, the use of light therapy can help, but research suggests that maintaining a schedule with healthy eating and working habits can also play a huge part in minimizing the effects of SAD.