A Season Full of Sadness

This month, listen to counselors and a student who has SAD talk about how it affects them and where to find help.

January 27, 2021


art by caeli harman

At 5 o’clock on a school night, when it’s already dark and freezing cold outside, you might find yourself sitting alone with nothing to do–not able to go anywhere because of the pandemic. This sad feeling could last only one day, but what does it mean when you spend all your days during this winter season in an ongoing state of sadness?

The correct term for this could be Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

 “Generally, what we see is increased moodiness coupled with lack of motivation or energy that begins with the changing of seasons. Students will report generally feeling down, or not feeling like themselves,” Ann Ash, SHS counselor, says.

Although students might feel like they are the only person at school who experiences it, they are not alone. 

“In general, the counseling office sees an increase in mental health concerns during the winter, particularly around the holiday months. The counseling services staff at the high school has seen an increase in students reporting mental health concerns since COVID,” Ash says. 

Telling the difference between something that has happened to you that causes feelings of sadness and the overall feeling of sadness that lasts for months is the first step in figuring out if you struggle with SAD. 

“I think anyone can be impacted by SAD, including teachers. School staff tend to pick up on the moods of our students, so when our students are struggling, we feel that and are impacted by it. Students with pre-existing mood disorders can have a higher incidence of SAD,” Ash says. 

Dane*,  a student at SHS whose name has been changed to protect their privacy, suffers from SAD. 

“The difference between depression and feeling sad is that the feeling of sadness is typically caused by a certain event, and is not a permanent feeling. It’s also more persistent than sadness,” Dane says.

Seasonal depression causes different problems in each individual. 

“With my seasonal depression, it’s made it a lot harder to get motivated and even do the things that make me feel better,” Dane says.

SAD can happen at any age, and to any person. 

“I was diagnosed with depression that worsens at this time of year. I have medication for it, but it always gets worse in the winter,” Dane says.

Even though Dane is only one student at SHS, many more struggle with seasonal mental illnesses. 

“A lot of my friends have anxiety and depression that worsens at this time of year. I know a lot of people struggling with mental illnesses, but I don’t think it’s always seasonal,” Dane says. 

The stay-at-home order issued due to COVID hasn’t helped those struggling with SAD. 

“COVID has worsened this because I can’t see friends regularly, which is one of the main things that helps. Seeing only a select few friends has helped keep me sane,” Dane says. 

So how will the constant change of school schedules affect those with SAD?

 “Some students have really grown to like online school, while others have struggled with it. I know that many students are very happy to be returning to school in some capacity. However, the increased Zoom time is a concern,” Ash says.    

“Our administration has tried to address this by allowing teachers the flexibility to dismiss virtual students from class early when there is work time. The thought is that teachers might teach for a portion of the class and then allow work time for a portion. This would minimize the time on Zoom for our virtual learners and also allow teachers time to support students’ individual needs. Each teacher will do what works best for their class, but they are mindful of Zoom fatigue and will structure lessons accordingly,” Ash adds.

Kristin Natzke is another school counselor at SHS who has witnessed SAD in students. “During the winter months, it is common to see an uptick in mental health issues due to the cold dreary weather that occurs, shorter daylight hours, and less sun overall. It may be a time when, due to some depressive symptoms, we start to see a student’s anxiety spike a bit,” Natzke says.

The next time you find yourself awake at three in the morning, unable to sleep and overwhelmed with sadness, know you aren’t alone. Dozens of other students struggle with these same issues as well, whether you know it or not. Winter isn’t easy for anyone, so it’s important to remember that anyone around you could be struggling and you simply might not know it. 

“The winter is cold and dark and it just makes me feel like I can’t do anything to escape it. In the summer, sunshine and being able to go outside and see friends makes me feel so much happier. But in the winter, it’s freezing and there’s little sun, so it’s like there’s no escape,” Dane says, “The brisk air of the cold winter months surrounds me, and as the sun sets in the early afternoon, taking with it my last bits of happiness.”

Tips for those struggling

You’re Not Alone

“Start with the basics.  Assess things like sleep, nutrition and exercise.  Reach out to friends, family or trusted adults and share what’s going on. If things are not improving, then talk to one of the counseling services staff at the high school or your family physician. We can help you determine next steps,” Ash says.

“Just focus on things that make you feel distracted. Low energy hobbies that help you feel better, even just for small increments.”

— Dane

“Please if you are struggling or not feeling yourself in any way please reach out, we are all here to help you.  Connect in with your counselor, an adult you feel comfortable with, a friend but please know that we all want to help you.  We care about you and will help you and connect you with the resources to help you.   The biggest takeaway would be that please if you are concerned about a friend, please encourage them to talk to a trusted adult, please advocate for them and reach out to a member of the Counseling Services staff.  With the pandemic on top of the winter months it’s important that we all work together to make sure that everyone is getting the help that they need,” Natzke says

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