A Long Season

Seasonal depression hits hard in Seattle.


Jessica Morales

In the throes of winter here in Seattle, it can be hard to catch a glimpse of blue skies and sunshine. While the gray rainy days may leave some with the urge to head over to their local coffee shop with a friend, others can become socially isolated and depressed due to changes in weather.

According to Mental Health America, in a given year, approximately five percent of the U.S population experiences Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. The likelihood of developing SAD is more prevalent in Seattle due to the lack of four distinct seasons and our high northern altitude.

SAD can be perpetuated by little exposure to sunlight which causes a decrease of serotonin in the brain. Researchers regard serotonin as the chemical in our bodies that contributes to one’s well being and happiness.

The Teen Health Center’s therapist, Rosie Moore added more insight on SAD.

“DSM is the way your brain assimilates light, kind of like your smartphones and blue screens, how they activate the part of your brain,” said Moore. “That doesn’t happen with Seasonal Affective Disorder, so it affects the way your serotonin “feel good hormones” work.”

We have about forty million brain cells, and many of those cells, including those related to mood balance, sex drive, sleep, memory and learning, and level of socialization, tend to be affected by the amount of serotonin we are making. If there is a shortage of serotonin, which happens during the winter, it can cause those with SAD to fall into depression.

As stated by Everyday Health, serotonin also acts as a neurotransmitter, it responds to light cues due to its responsibility to communicate signals from one part of the brain to another. Lack of light stumps our circadian rhythm, or the twenty-four hour cycle of our biological clocks that lets us know when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake. That clock can spur during seasons in which the sun sets earlier and rises later, causing feelings of exhaustion, sadness, irritability, increase in appetite, and so on.

Although there isn’t an actual diagnosis for SAD, symptoms are said to last from late fall to late spring, however the occurrences of SAD and how depressed one is depends on how far away one lives from the equator.

Moore noted that even if there isn’t a real diagnosis, it also shouldn’t be self-diagnosed until you’ve further analyzed your own mood.

“They may not be able to pinpoint SAD until they break things down into what time of year they feel the mood, whether it’s gray days or sunny days. It’s not just a top of your head kinda diagnosis.”

WebMD also suggests something similar to Moore. It’s possible one may have SAD if you have felt depressed during the last two or more winters, but have felt your mood improve towards the end of spring and throughout the summer.

SAD affects different people in a multitude of ways. Student Jonny Sabath explained how the weather affects them personally saying,

“I deal with a lot more self loathing over winter break and some of that also comes from being alone. I get a lot of my energy from other people, so I can’t be alone for more than a day without losing almost all of my motivation to do anything.”

While SAD or any mood disorder does affect a student academically due to lack of focus and disinterest in hobbies or activities, the impacts vary from person to person.

“For me, it’s the worst when we don’t have school, because the structure of school keeps me somewhat grounded,” said Sabath.

SAD can be combatted through self-care and other therapeutic resources. There are many who rely on light therapy, one of the most common and effective ways of treatment. Still others find comfort in going on walks during the day, sticking to sleeping habits, increasing exercise, or simply talking to a counselor.


Art by: Brianna Kleckner