Pierce Pioneer

The pandemic’s impact on seasonal depression and mental health overall

A year defined by loneliness and anxiety, but also resilience is finally behind us.

Over the past few months, there were days that I would suddenly have dark thoughts. I’d be in the middle of homework and suddenly think, “Why am I doing this? What’s the point?” and then continue before stopping shortly after because I lost my motivation.

It’s no surprise that 2020 became sluggish towards the end. With the days getting shorter approaching the winter solstice, it’s important to shed light on something that affects up to one in 10 people in the Pacific Northwest—Seasonal Affective Disorder. 

SAD is just one part of the bigger conversation around mental health. Though the stigma around it has gone down, it’s far from gone. As quarantine fatigue lingers, it’s more important than ever that we normalize discussion around mental health. 

SAD is characterised as a depression that comes around during certain parts of the year; usually during the winter months. There are many similarities between SAD and clinical depression, but what differentiates them is that SAD has a pattern. 

According to Faculty Counselor Jennifer Wright, the most common symptom is a lack of motivation. Grief and loss are common themes that people with SAD express, whether it be direct or indirect.

For Megan Irby, Faculty Counselor, she feels that quarantine will only make the effects of SAD worse for those experiencing it. “Everything has been exacerbated by the quarantine, especially with the second wave and more limitations,” Irby said.

“People are starting to get out a little bit more, [but] now with the new restrictions, they won’t have as many options to see people. It is going to get worse for people that already struggle with it.”

I myself wonder if people with SAD have noticed a difference between this winter and last winter. Is it hard to tell what is causing a lack of motivation? Or is last winter just a blur that no one remembers? 

According to Jennifer Wright, she doesn’t hear a trend one way or another. “[On] the flip side of that, I wonder if people were already so well practiced at it that it’s like, ‘Eh, I’m already used to being indoors,’” Wright said.

I try not to self diagnose. I don’t know if others have had similar feelings or what caused them. What I do know is that my feelings happened and that the pandemic might’ve been a factor. 

Covid fatigue is a pain. The past year felt like a jumbled mess to me, which is why it’s been hard for me to pinpoint exactly what I’m going through. So, I stick with what I know. I started writing down my thoughts in a journal so I can look back for patterns. This isn’t an immediate solution; it’s going to take some time.

There are things you can do if you suspect you have SAD. According to Irby—if you’re able—getting your blood levels check during a doctor visit can tell you if there are any deficiencies. Taking vitamin D supplements is a good idea for anyone living in the Pacific Northwest since we don’t get much natural sunlight. There are also light boxes that mimic sunlight on places like Amazon.

While discussing the stigma around mental health, Faculty Counselor Brenda Rogers mentions how she wants mental health to be an easier topic to talk about. “I wish seeing a counselor seemed like a tool—like having a trainer [at the gym],” Rogers said.

The conversation around mental health needs to be normalized. Speaking from personal experience, it’s no coincidence that Millennials and Gen Z joke about their mental health; It’s our way of coping. 

Even before the pandemic hit, the rate of depression among teens and young adults was on the rise. As an Asian-American student, I’m too familiar with how mental health issues are brushed to the side by family. 

Pierce College has a website with mental health resources and counselors who provide short-term therapy. I have been seeing a counselor for a couple months now and would honestly recommend it even if you don’t think what you’re going through is ‘serious enough.’

To say quarantine sucks is an oversimplification. The pandemic has taken a toll on everyone’s mental health, whether they admit it or not. “If someone’s telling me, ‘I feel great! Everything is fine.’ I don’t believe them,” Wright said. “Nobody should be feeling fine right now, that’s not normal. It’s ok [not feeling fine], we’re in this together, and this is a time to support and love one another.”

You don’t always have to keep your chin up; what you feel is what you feel. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Whether it’s to the resources listed above to your friends. Brighter days—quite literally—lay ahead.

Cure those winter blues

Mariah Foley
Staff Writer

Not many people know what it means when people talk about “SAD.” SAD stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder, and is a form of depression that affects thousands of people, specifically during wintertime. The medical term for SAD is ‘light deficiency’, because the long winter nights and decreased light intake in a person’s body has a visible, life-changing effect.

Seasonal depression affects about 10% of the population in Seattle alone, and although it affects everyone, it is more detectable in women, says professor David Avery from University of Washington School of Medicine.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, like other forms of depression, can result in bipolar disorder and even suicide. However, the usual effects of SAD are weight gain, grumpy or sluggish behavior, and lack of motivation.

The best-known way to treat SAD is light therapy, during which one exposes oneself to a “light box” for about a half hour every morning, to stimulate the sunrise. Light therapy increases melatonin production, which is the hormone that allows the body to create circadian rhythms, also known as a sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin supplements are also prescribed to treat light deficiency.

Tryptophan supplements are also used in treating patients with SAD. This drug increases serotonin production. Although it cannot cure light deficiency, it is still used because it makes people feel happier.

For those without the funds or access to medical treatment, there are many simple and even fun ways to improve those ‘Winter Blues’.

1. Stimulate Sunlight

Since SAD is prevalent in gloomy, dark places, take a vacation to a sunny place. Although it might empty your wallet, you could be surprised how a short trip could reset your biological clock, making you more energized and ready to take on the rain.

When there is no way to get your hands on a light box or funds to go to a sunny place, there are still ways to stimulate sunlight to the body and increase melatonin production, such as spending time in a tanning bed. Even though tanning beds get a bad rap, as long as you wear UV-safe tanning lotion and limit your time, you can be surprised at the improvement in your mood.

1.Make your environment brighter

Even if it is overcast, spending time outside can still get your body the light it needs. Those who are depressed in the wintertime should spend more time in daylight, especially in the morning. Take the window seat.

Filling your home with light colors can help you maintain a positive outlook and mood. Opening a window, painting a bedroom, or even wearing bright colors can improve seasonal depression.

1.Keep a schedule and watch your diet

Because of SAD, and decrease in melatonin, the body has a hard time recognizing when it should be tired, hungry, or active. People with SAD tend to crave carbs. A way to maintain a healthy diet and keep your tummy full is to eat more protein and vegetables.

Caffeine and alcohol may seem like a good way to put some pep in your step, but they can make someone with Seasonal Attentive Disorder too on edge and deepen their depression.  A healthier alternative to caffeine and alcohol are herbal teas, which can still supply a person with energy, without the negative affects.

4. Stimulate your body

Exercising more often can stimulate endorphin production, making a person less likely to be depressed, whether it is seasonal or not. Much like exercising, laughter also stimulates endorphins in the brain, which will make a person feel happier.

Even if you do not exhibit the telltale signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder, you can still prevent the winter blues and stay healthy by working a healthy amount of sunlight and exercise into your schedule.

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