For many, the start of the winter season is filled with celebration and time with friends and family.
Yet, when the fun and festivities of the holidays subside, the lingering cold weather and shorter days leave people, like first-year statistics and sport and entertainment management student Nathan Ladimir, feeling isolated and lethargic.
“Days that are darker and colder for longer amount of times, days that are dreary, give me low energy and very little motivation,” Ladimir said in a text to The Daily Gamecock.
Seasonal depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), develops when a lack of energy causes feelings of sadness and hopelessness that intensify to the point of interference with daily activities.
While scientists have yet to discover a definitive cause of SAD, the National Institute of Mental Health points to the brain's overproduction of melatonin as well as deficits in vitamin D — which is produced during sun exposure — as a potential reason for seasonal fatigue.
The Mayo Clinic lists low energy, oversleeping, chronic feelings of sadness or listlessness, difficulty concentrating and a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed as symptoms of SAD. If the symptoms are left unmitigated and persist beyond the winter season, SAD can lead to the development of more severe and chronic depression.
These signs of SAD most often appear during young adulthood, making college students especially susceptible to experiencing seasonal depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
According to a blog post by Dr. Norman Rosenthal, who led a team of researchers that first described SAD, an increased workload and interrupted sleep schedules are part of what makes college students particularly vulnerable to developing seasonal depression.
Students already experiencing SAD symptoms may fall behind in their workload as a result of their mental health struggles, leading to feelings of personal shame and disappointment in themselves that only intensify their depressive emotions.
Furthermore, in college, young adults’ sleep schedules are often significantly altered, as they become more active at night due to the newfound independence and lack of a structured schedule. With this, Rosenthal said students are often deprived of sleep and daylight, heightening their susceptibility to developing SAD.
The independence of college life can also leave students feeling alone in their mental health struggles, creating a new obstacle in their healing process.
“No one should feel as though they need to navigate difficult seasons of life alone, especially while being a student; the feeling of loneliness adds another layer of stress," Abigail Kastner, a Ph.D. candidate at the Medical University of South Carolina's Department of Neuroscience, said in a blog post about coping with SAD.
With this in mind, there are several resources at USC that students can utilize for support in their mental health journey. Mission Mental Health is an on-campus student organization that works to provide mental health resources for faculty and students.
Hailey Chase, a second-year marketing and management student and member of Mission Mental Health, said in an email to The Daily Gamecock that there are many ways students can manage seasonal depression on campus.
“Some helpful activities include exercising, walking outside for vitamin D, getting proper sleep, maintaining a healthy diet and leaning on your support system," Chase said.
The National Institute of Mental Health also offers various methods for relieving SAD symptoms. Incorporating vitamin D into your daily routine, whether through walking outside or taking vitamin supplements, can help to lessen the symptoms. Light therapy or specialized lamps that simulate sunlight indoors can also help people suffering from SAD.
These actions can help to lessen SAD symptoms by reducing feelings of isolation and providing a boost of energy. However, it is important to remember that there is no simple fix when it comes to relieving seasonal depression, Chase said. Everyone has unique experiences with it, and therefore, has their own individual healing journey as well.
"SD is difficult, like any other depression, because there isn't a 'cure,'" Chase said. "There's no to-do list we can check off to automatically feel better."
Jessica Barnes, the program manager of the South Carolina Department of Mental Health's Office of Suicide Preventions, said in an email to The Daily Gamecock that people should reach out to others to help process the emotions SAD often brings during winter months.
"Different times of the year can be hard for people. If you noticed yourself feeling, down, anxious, stressed or overwhelmed, it is okay to reach out," Barnes said. "You do not have to go through these feelings alone."