Shilpa Giri

With the country switching back from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time and the days ending significantly earlier than before, it seems as though an epidemic of Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly known as SAD, has spread throughout NC State campus. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer.” While some people do suffer from SAD during the summer months, it is much more common during the winter as the combined effect of cold and lack of sunlight reduces a person’s serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter greatly linked to reducing depression.

If you are familiar with the NCSU Haiku’s page on Instagram, you probably would have noticed a slightly disturbing increase in depressed and sad submissions, most of which also happen to be anonymous. I know a lot of fellow students consider the page as a platform for students to goof around and write for when they’re bored, but I believe any platform students can use to express themselves should be taken extremely seriously, especially when the submissions show a strong trend of stress, anxiety and depression amongst the students.

Whether this trend is related to the timings associated with SAD, or if it is just a meaningless coincidence, students and faculty need to give mental health a significant amount of attention, especially with finals week coming up.

According to ABC News, a study that surveyed more than 67,000 college students found that one in five students had thought about suicide, while one in 10 actually attempted suicide. Given these alarming statistics, it is extremely important for everyone to recognize the signs that someone is hurting and to help that person in any way possible.

Some common signs that someone may be suffering from SAD or is just stressed and anxious in general are an unusual increase/decrease in appetite, social isolation, unusual weight loss/gain, increased sleeping, increased irritability, etc. Many depressed people also try to mask their pain by constantly cracking jokes, so don’t just assume that your “funny friend” is fine. Furthermore, never take jokes about suicide and self-harm lightly. People with suicidal tendencies often try to talk about their issues with their friend group, but then cover it up as a joke when the conversation goes south. It is important to be aware of these red flags as a little can go a long way when it comes to mental health issues.

If you feel as though you might be suffering from SAD, I would strongly recommend reaching out to the Student Health Center or the Counselling Center. Experts there would be able to diagnose your condition much more accurately and promptly than self-diagnosing after reading WebMD articles. A major reason why cases of SAD increases during the winter is the lack of sunlight, which is why most health centers provide light therapy boxes for people suffering from SAD. These will artificially fool your brain into thinking it is exposed to natural sunlight and will produce more serotonin, decreasing depression levels.

For those who may not be diagnosed with SAD but still feel those winter blues, there are a number of strategies you can use to elevate your mood. Try spending more time outdoors when the sun is out instead of being constantly cooped up in your room or in a cubicle in the library. Another tip is to wear brighter colors, as looking at warm colors releases dopamine, commonly known as the “feel-good hormone.” Yes, I understand that wearing all black is a mood, but consider changing it up a bit if you start feeling the winter blues.

It is safe to say that a large chunk of students’ stress is contributed by finals week. Professors are dropping deadlines left and right, and most people have their finals just a week from now! To help ace your finals in the face of gloom, I would suggest maintaining a proper timetable (I know, easier said than done!), get enough sleep, follow a balanced diet, get a bit of exercise from time to time; all that jazz. Campus resources like the Counselling Center as well as tutoring services can be very helpful in dealing with academic and emotional stress. But most importantly, know that a few bad grades doesn’t mean the end of the world.