Seasonal Affective Disorder

By Madeleine Richey

How’s the weather? No, really, how’s the weather? It’s an awkward conversation starter for sure, because you always use it as a last resort, but when we’re locked in a polar vortex and you feel like you’re trapped under a big black thunder cloud that’s dumping freezing rain over your head, asking yourself if the weather has anything to do with it is a legitimate question.

There is such a thing as depression that coincides with the weather. It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, appropriately. For most people it starts in the fall when the weather turns gray and cold, and continues through the winter. Symptoms of SAD could be as severe as unexplained weight loss, or as simple as having no energy or drive and becoming moody. (For more information you can always go to the Mayo Clinic’s webpage.)

The cause of SAD is lack of sunlight. Research has shown that sunlight affects certain chemical balances in our brains, so inadequate sunlight adversely affects the way our brains function. Additionally, people with low Vitamin D levels in their blood (you get Vitamin D by spending time in the sun) were found to have a higher rate of occurrence of SAD than those who had normal levels of Vitamin D.

The real problem about SAD though, is not that side effects make you miserable, but that few people seem to know about it. It is a diagnosable illness, and it does carry with it many of the effects of depression, but it’s rarely recognized.

So what can we do to help fight off the effect of SAD, aside from hoping spring will make an appearance soon?

Exercise! Exercise makes us happy because it causes the release of endorphins that help raise our spirits (endorphins function as neurotransmitters, and the effect they have on us is almost like a high triggered by drugs, but in this case it’s all natural). Endorphins are also triggered by spicy food, just in case you’re not up for exercise.

Light. You can buy a light box that is designed to mimic sunlight, and sitting in front of it for a little while can significantly boost your energy and your mood. Or, since light boxes are expensive, you can spend time outside (cold or not) to regulate the chemicals in the brain get more vitamin D, which will help alleviate the symptoms of SAD.

Antidepressants are also available, but they come with a whole host of warnings and side effects that are better off avoided if they can be. And, if you’re like most people, doctors won’t describe antidepressants for SAD unless it is extreme (compared to the usual case of moodiness and lack of energy).

SAD is mostly known for affecting people during the fall and winter, but it can be triggered by spring or summer for some people. It is often characterized by its recurrence at the same time every year.

Just remember, though, SAD is not the same as clinical depression. If symptoms persist or get worse, it could be more than just the weather affecting you, and you should seek help.

Madeleine, 16, says: “I want to help people and I want to tell stories, especially the stories of people who don’t have a voice of their own.” Visit her blog at

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