Eva Timoney / Gavel Media

SAD Among Us

Leaves changing from green to red, frost on the ground… and feelings of sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion? These are all hallmarks—and potentially, for those who hail from warmer climates, new experiences—of fall that have begun to appear on Boston College’s campus.

As we move further into the season, it is typical to hear whispers of “seasonal depression.” Seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a cyclical depression that usually begins in the fall, worsens in winter, and clears up during spring. For students unaccustomed to the cold, it can be especially dramatic.

“I am really scared of [developing] seasonal depression,” said Izzy Wibowo, MCAS ‘23.

Wibowo is an international student who will be experiencing her first New England winter this year. Her concern stems from the fact that "[her] mood tends to depend on the weather."

Many theories exist regarding the source of SAD, though it is generally agreed that a lack of exposure to sunlight greatly contributes to the development of this disease in individuals. Cleveland Clinic links the lack of sunlight in fall and winter to a chemical imbalance in the brain. The clinic also presents the theory that “internal biological clock[s]” are changed by the diminishing sunlight, leading to a shift in “mood, sleep, and hormones.”

SAD is most commonly felt in places far north and far south of the equator. Unfortunately, this includes Boston College.

Some other risk factors include gender and age. Women are three times as likely to be affected by SAD as men, but men generally experience harsher symptoms. In addition, SAD is most common in people aged 18 to 30.

Family history is another common risk factor. If other members of one's family suffer from SAD, this could put an individual at higher risk. 

Symptoms of SAD are similar to the general symptoms of depression: anxiety, irritability, loss of interest in usual activities, and lack of energy, to name a few. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to avoid it.

One of the most effective treatments for SAD is “light therapy.” Light therapy comes in many forms but always follows the same principle: If SAD is caused by a lack of natural light, then spending time near a source of light will diminish its symptoms.

Beyond simply spending more time outside in the sun, devices such as “light boxes” or “dawn simulators” can help reset your internal clock and dispel your seasonal depression. Besides light therapy, taking time to de-stress can also help combat the effects of SAD. 

If you feel as though you are suffering from feelings of intense sadness or despair—seasonal or not—Boston College has resources for you. University Counseling Services offers confidential, professional mental health assistance for all students. To make an appointment, stop by their office in Gasson 001, visit their website, or reach them by phone at (617)-552-3310.

As you read this, I'm probably eating popcorn, napping, or playing Mario Kart. Or some combination of the three.