Mental Health Flies South for the Winter

How the cold weather impacts student wellbeing and academic performance.

Art+by+Judas+Knox

Art by Judas Knox

As the first semester passes and the days get shorter, the decrease in students’ mental health and motivation is often overlooked. Deadlines have become more concrete and expectations have gone up now that students are no longer in online school. Due to the drastic change in pace from the previous online school experience, it may be harder for students to keep up.

For Garfield, the beginning of a new season could be viewed as an opportunity to implement new practices regarding the mental health and overall wellbeing of students. This starts with making sure students know of accessible resources they can go to for help.
In Seattle especially, as temperatures drop and the sun begins to set earlier and earlier, many students may experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is “depression associated with late autumn and winter and thought to be caused by a lack of light,” according to Oxford Languages. An article from University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill (UNC) states that symptoms of SAD can be “low energy and sluggishness, insomnia, increased drowsiness or other sleep problems,” and “trouble concentrating.” All of these can directly translate to a student’s performance in school and may cause students to fall behind with their work.

Senior Teja Zeribi, leader of Garfield’s club Bulldogs Minds Matter, gave her thoughts on what affects mental health in the colder seasons. “I definitely think the lack of Vitamin D and lack of ability to be outside, especially during COVID.” She also talked through challenges that students may feel directly related to their academics.
“There is a lot of vulnerability in explaining to teachers why you’re struggling, especially with the stigma around mental health,” Zeribi said. She emphasized the value in reaching out to find resources. “If that’s academic support, if that’s socioemotional support, you can [then] move forward in healthy ways instead of this endless cycle of feeling ashamed about work,” Zeribi said.

“People with high levels of anxiety or depression may really struggle coping in school with handling academic work in addition to their mental health, but I also think that people can appear to be doing well and still be struggling with mental health.”

One of the biggest topics Zeribi discussed was increasing the normalcy of conversations regarding mental health. The focus of Bulldogs Minds Matter is to do exactly this, as well as learning to best support your loved ones when they are struggling, and discussing the many ways mental health can manifest itself in a person’s life.
Zeribi stressed the importance of “just having conversations about student wellness so that the students who aren’t visibly struggling are still being supported and know where to get resources.” Garfield teacher Tyson Koyano also gave his input on how it is common for the responsibility of aiding students’ mental health struggles to fall on teachers.

“Am I doing a better job of cultivating trust with my students where they are sharing more with me? [Have] we as a society done a better job where people are being more honest about, and open about their mental health?” Koyano said.

“I do believe the culture is opening up about the stigma of mental health, but I don’t know if it has gotten worse or not, I just know people are more open [to] talking about it.”
This observation sheds light on a larger discussion.
“I think we as a faculty…teachers, admin, people who support beyond those two roles, need to come together and talk about what the purpose of education is. Because we’re not on the same page, and some of us have, I believe, invested in the idea that school is about competition. And that is never going to support mental health,” Koyano said.
With greater understanding of how mental health ties into students’ success, the purpose and definition of the education system is called into question.

“I think there can definitely be a correlation between academic struggling but also academics can be a source of stress,” Zeribi said.

This cycle of anxiety and overall mental health connected with schoolwork poses a major concern in schools right now, especially coming off of a return from the very different learning environment that was online school.
In addition, teachers being understanding and providing accommodations has proven beneficial when students can’t stay on top of their work one hundred percent of the time. Koyano described a previous method he has used to alleviate stress students may be feeling around finals time, which was to push up the deadline of his final projects. This resulted in his students having completed their heavy workload for his class by the time their final tests for other classes came around. On the day of their other finals, he held a classwide discussion and lesson on mental health.

Students and staff could come together to create methods similar to Koyano’s that can be introduced to improve mental health in the Garfield community. Those methods can complement efforts to normalize conversations about mental health. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Zeribi said.
“The biggest thing you can do is [to] be honest about how you are doing, because then you can get the support that you need.”

Mental Health Resources:
Bulldogs Minds Matter: Meetings every Tuesday at lunch, Room 227
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
Garfield Teen Health Center: garfieldteenhealthcenter@seattlechildrens.org,
(206) 860-0680 (for making appointments)
Crisis Line: Text HOME to 741741
Seattle Counseling with queer resources available: seattlecounseling.org/mental-health-services/